Arias from Der Freischütz, Aida, La Boh╦me, Tosca, Eugen Onegin, Pique Dame, Un ballo en maschera, Zigeunerliebe, Die lustige Witse, Der Zarewitsch, Die Dubarry, Don Giovanni, Die Fledermaus and Salome; songs of Dargomijsky, Mussorgsky, Marx and Richard Strauss

PREISER 90476 (2 CDs) (F) (M) TT: 79:05

An important release for opera lovers as it restores to the catalog a number of Ljuba Welitsch recordings once issued on London/Decca in their Legendary Decca Archives (448 153). Welitsch's voice was one of the most distinctive of the century, admired by Strauss for whom she sang her first Salome on his 80th birthday.  Her career lasted barely a decade but in that short time she created a legend. Preiser's set contains two arias each from Pique Dame (sung in German) and Un ballo en maschera, and four exquisite operetta excerpts, all with the Vienna State Opera Orchestra under Rudolf Moralt.  All are prime examples of the unique artistry of the fiery Bulgarian soprano at her peak of performance, with that silvery, sensuous yet vulnerable sound. It's good to have them back.

The first CD is called The European Recordings and includes all items released on 78s or early LPs, arias from Aida, Tosca, Der Freischutz and the Letter Scene from Eugene Onegin in its definitive recorded performance (even though sung in German).  All of these were available on EMI CD 61007 in their Great Recordings of the Century series, long out-of-print, a CD that also included a stunning radio performance of the Salome finale recorded in Vienna in 1944 with Lovro von Matacic conducting. The Moralt-conducted items mentioned earlier fill out the CD along with Zigeunerlieder, Op.103 of Brahms from a 1947 BBC broadcast with pianist Ernest Lush. The European Recordings does not include the incomplete Salome finale recorded in 1948 with Karajan and the Vienna Philharmonic, never issued on 78s (one side had been damaged) but the undamaged sides were issued on CD as part of the Karajan Edition (66394).

CD 2, called The American Recordings isn't all of them and duplicates the Sony Masterworks Heritage set (MH2K 62866) (see REVIEW); actually that 2 CD set doesn't include all of them as the complete Fledermaus (with Eugene Ormandy conducting the Met Orchestra) isn't there.  However it does include a group of lieder of Brahms, Schumann and Schubert, songs of Mahler and Four Last Songs of Strauss all with Paul Ulanowsky at the piano, none of which were issued prior to the CD. The Mahler and Strauss apparently were "trials" and not intended for issue; one of the Mahler songs isn't complete.

Preiser's transfers are superb - full-bodied and immediate.  The twin-CD set is worth having just for the Moralt-conducted items which are not available elsewhere.  High recommended!

R.E.B.  (April 2002)