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Opera.be : The Yves Becko Collection
09 Oct 2007

The Yves Becko Collection

This must be one of the most interesting collectors’ collections to have appeared in many a year. Personally I’ve always liked any singer from Fernando De Lucia to Rolando Villazon but I never was tempted to collect shellac and therefore didn’t have to contact Yves Becko.

Opera.be: The Yves Becko Collection

Albers, Arral, Assy, Bergé, Blouse, Boons, Crabbé, Colmant, Decléry, Delvoye, Deschamps-Jehin, Dubois, Farrère, Fontaine, Forgeur, Ghasne, Gilibert, Gilly, Imbart de la Tour, Lasalle, Leblanc, Lefèvre, Lheureux, Maréchal, Mertens, Montfort, Noté, Revel, Saint-Cricq, Soulacroix, Sterkens, Swolfs, van Bosch, van Dijck, Verlet, Ysaÿe.

The koning Boudewijnfoundation 1622 [2CDs]

15 €  Click to buy

Becko was a Walloon engineer, one of the few Walloons able to speak acceptable Dutch, and at the end of his too short life the owner of a magnificent collection of 20.000 shellac records (including extreme rarities on Pathé), lots of cylinders etc. I know several collectors who had to deal with Becko and he was not one to sell cheap or to be generous to other members of the tribe. Anyway his wife and daughter sold the collection in its entirety to De koning Boudewijn (king Baldwin in English and not Baudouin as they always mistakenly call themselves) Foundation which handed the treasure to the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (Royal Library) at the Kunstberg in Brussels where appropriate measures will be taken to make it accessible.

Still it is a reality that in the matter of collectors’ records, Foundation and Becko family succeeded in making some decisions which lessen somewhat the pleasure of this important issue. The two CDs contain 60 interesting records and nowhere, not in the liner notes, not on the sleeve, can one find a date. Granted it is not always easy to have an exact date of recording but The Record Collector has proven for almost 60 years that with some research one can come near. This is especially galling as I don’t know who had the brilliant idea of putting all these selections in alphabetical order per singer. Now we get an acoustic followed by an electric followed by a cylinder followed by an acetate etc. Don’t try to look for evolution in the style of singing or the art of recording. The booklet is very luxuriously illustrated with many photographs but the notes themselves are far from interesting. Though a lot of the singers are very obscure, there are no biographical details. The buyer will have to purchase Dick Soper’s ‘Belgian Opera Houses and Singers’ and a complete set of Kutsch-Riemens if he wants some details on the singers. Nevertheless page after page is devoted to Mr. Becko (do we really have to know he liked Tony Poncet ?) and the kind of records he collected. Maybe this kind of non-information was a condition imposed by the family. A small essay on Belgian singers during the shellac days is just an enumeration of names. The koning Boudewijn Foundation is one of the last curiosities pretending that Belgium should stay as it is, denying the huge cleft on every issue between Flemings and Walloons. Therefore the Foundation should take care not to publish an essay that is offensive to one of two peoples. The author, Frédéric Lemmers is constantly referring to translations of songs and arias in Flemish. By now, Mr. Lemmers should finally know and acknowledge that Dutch is the language of Flanders; Flemish being a dialect known from Dunkirk (in France) to Middelburg (in the Netherlands) but not in the former duchy of Brabant where I am living though it is the heart of nowadays Flanders. I can assure Mr. Lemmers that the non-French selections on the CDs are sung in excellent Dutch, understood by everybody from Amsterdam to Brussels. This condescending attitude results in some mistakes as well. There was never a tenor Joseph Sterkens ; it was Jef Sterkens though ‘Joseph’ may well have been written on his birth certificate as he was born during the Walloon colonization of Flanders (nor is there a Joseph Fortuné Verdi, though these are the names on the birth certificate too). The creator of Werther was not Van Dyck but Van Dijck as proven by the tenor’s own signature.

Happily for the American collector, this will pale against the treasures to be found on these CDs. The transfers are excellent, pitched during long hours of work by my friend (a Walloon, would you believe it ?) Georges Cardol. Georges is a teacher of physics and a talented amateur-baritone, using the score, a piano and his gut feeling when pitching. He takes such care that, not being a shellac guy myself, he succeeded in instilling doubts in me when listening to some selections. Normally, I would have pronounced the Valère Blouse a tone too high but knowing Cardol’s care I probably am wrong. Was Blouse Flemish or Walloon ? some will ask. Neither. The producers (Lemmers, Couvreur, Cardol ) sold the idea of these CDs to the Foundation by telling them that it was an overview of Belgian singers and then they picked out recordings of some of the most rare and interesting singers in the Becko collection, a lot of them French.

The CDs start with four very fine recordings by Henri Albers, a Dutch baritone while French singers like Blouse, Deschamps-Jehin, Dubois, Gilibert, Gilly, Imbart, Leblanc, Saint-Cricq etc. are well represented. Therefore this is foremost a collection of singers who sang in the opera houses of Brussels, Ghent, Antwerp and Liège. Of course there are a lot of Flemish and Walloon singers too, not all of them exceptionally talented but represented by recordings which are extremely rare and almost not to be found elsewhere on CD ( exceptions are well known French singers like Soulacroix who is on well pitched “Truesound” but Saint-Cricq and Landouzy are only to be found on notoriously bad “Malibran”.) Several names were completely unknown to me and it doesn’t come as a surprise there are some dull dogs among them (Dectéry: squeezed; Delvoye: great voice but rough style). But with others we are in for a surprise: unknown Dubois who is almost as good as René Verdière; baritone Emiel van Bosch whom I finally can appreciate due to the fine transfers; Jeanne Montfort who made me sit up wit her Vivandière. Other names will be unknown in the States though they still ring a bell in this country but I’m sure every collector will be surprised by the wonderful spinto voice of Claudine Boons, by Madeleine Farrère so much better and less shrill than better known Clara Clairbert. Tenor Charles Fontaine has a whole CD, produced by Georges Cardol for his friends only (lucky me) but deserves to have an issue widely available. I admire the producers for avoiding cliché names like Bovy, Clairbert and especially Ansseau which would make this issue less interesting as they are already well represented on CD. And I admire them for including items by great names, even if the singing is less than great but now at last we can judge for ourselves if we appreciate the dry tone of Georges Imbart de la Tour or Georgette Leblanc. And the creator record of Flemish tenor Ernest van Dijck (“Pourquoi me réveiller” though he actually created Werther in German) proves that his best years were gone but that the voice was ample indeed. For 15 Euros this is a bargain and I hope these CDs will sell well. Take care to ask for the English language version. Welcome is the news that other labels will be allowed to mine the Becko collection too.

Jan Neckers

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