Caruso 2000 (CD review)

The Digital Recordings. Enrico Caruso; Gottfried Rabi, Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. RCA 74321-69766-2.

No matter whether you think Enrico Caruso (1873-1921) was the greatest tenor of all time, you have to admit the idea for this album is a kick: Caruso singing with a modern symphony orchestra in full-blown stereo. What the marvels of modern digital technology can't accomplish.

RCA did these renovations in the year 2000; thus, the title of the album. They have cleaned the century-old Caruso recordings (made between 1906-1920), edited out extraneous clicks, ticks, and pops, and deleted the original, meager instrumental accompaniments altogether. Then conductor Gottfried Rabi and the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra played along with the voice. The results can occasionally sound quite convincing and highly rewarding, enabling us for the first time to hear Caruso as he might actually have sounded live all those many years ago. The results can also be highly frustrating sometimes, sounding exactly like what they are, a modern orchestra playing behind old phonograph records. So, maybe the whole thing's merely a novelty; depends on your point of view.

Enrico Caruso
Nevertheless, I enjoyed the disc, even if it might drive purists mad. On most of the tracks, and in spite of anything the RCA engineers could do, Caruso's voice appears to be in an entirely different acoustic space from the orchestra. Nothing can disguise the dead, hollow, megaphone sound of the old recordings. But if one listens with a willing suspension of disbelief, the music comes off better than one might expect.

RCA included seventeen selections on the disc, among the best sounding of which are Meyerbeers's "O paradiso!" and Leoncavallo's "Vesti la giubba." As a final track, RCA provide the original version of the latter recording for comparison purposes. Yes, there is a huge difference, albeit an unfair one. RCA, after all, cleaned up the remastering (and added modern accompaniment), making the new version sound quite a bit better than the hundred-year-old one, with its thin sound and plethora of associated noises. I think we get the point.

If you are a Caruso collector, the disc is probably already in your collection. If you have avoided buying any Caruso recordings because you knew you would not be able to cope with the ancient sonics, this is your chance to hear something perhaps more pleasing to the ear. Of course, if you are happy with the old Caruso recordings just as they are, you might not appreciate these newfangled concoctions. The disparity in aural surroundings between voice and orchestra may be more distracting to you than the old originals.

In any case, there's a lot here to think about and, with an open ear, maybe a little something to enjoy.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa