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**** "Of Gods and Demons: Famous Operatic Arias and Dramatic Scenes." George London, bass-baritone. Various orchestras and conductors.; ** 1/2 "Eileen Farrell Sings Verdi." Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Max Rudolf and Fausto Cleva, conductors; ** "Richard Tucker Sings Verdi." Various orchestras and conductors; ** "Opera Arias & Songs." Alexander Kipnis, bass. Various pianists and orchestras, Robert Hood Bowers, conductor; (All releases on Sony Classical)

March 16, 1997|Daniel Cariaga.

Vocal icons of the mid-century, Farrell, London, Tucker and Kipnis, have left mementos of their achievements for new audiences and for those who remember. These four CDs, part of Sony's 19-CD Masterworks Heritage series, nicely resurrect recordings dating back to the '30s and package them with the graphics of the time, along with extensive new and original notes. Soundwise, they may lack ideal resonance--what else is new?--but many beauties still materialize. The potent and irresistible artistry of London, in Mephistophelian arias and Wagnerian scenes, put into perspective two generations of his would-be successors. Farrell's wonderful, voluminous and prismatic vocalism is insufficiently documented here, yet her versatility emerges, and some of the ease with which she performed. Tucker's businesslike approach to Italianate tenorism offers the sort of self-consciousness and predictability admired in his heyday. Kipnis' lieder and arias, recorded from '27 to '30, are pleasant relics of a slower age, when sagging tempos and energy were part of the prevailing aesthetic.

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