Before 2000, anyone wanting to hear the great German bass baritone Hans Hotter on CD either needed to locate him in a collection, an opera set in which he appeared, or in releases on poor-quality Italian labels. Since then, the Testament label, which devotes itself largely to reissuing recordings from EMI's vaults from artists of little commercial value to the company, has released two high-quality compact discs of Hotter's singing. Supplementary to this project comes another from the German label Preiser in its series Dokumente Einer Sängerkarriere, Hans Hotter Singt. These selections also originated with EMI, recorded at the tail end of the 78 era between 1949 and 1951. As Hotter remade several of the pieces for use on LP, many reissue projects tend to pass over these older performances. Nonetheless, Hotter was at the peak of his powers around 1950, whereas he struggles somewhat with his voice in recordings made in the later 1950s, where Testament has concentrated much of its efforts. Hans Hotter Singt features prime Hotter in generally excellent transfers, mostly in recordings that are otherwise unavailable.
The three Handel arias and Brahms' Mit vierzig Jahren duplicate their appearance on a Testament release, Hans Hotter: The Early EMI Recordings. Among unduplicated selections on Hans Hotter Singt, there is a highly interesting 1950 recording of Johann Sebastian Bach's Cantata No. 82, "Ich habe genug." Hotter is backed by the Philharmonia Orchestra arranged in a slightly bigger band than is the current fashion for Bach's music; the tempos are a tad sluggish and the style of instrumental performance rather stodgy. None of this seems to effect Hotter, though, who floats weightlessly through this music and has a chance to display his strong and confident top notes in Bach's unusually high-lying writing for bass voice. The lieder, which brings Hotter together with incomparable accompanist Gerald Moore, is better; the 1949 Schubert Wandrers Nachtlied ("Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh") almost seems to suspend time as Hotter's gentle voice and Moore's careful pacing draw the piece to its conclusion with nary a ripple on its smooth, undisturbed surface. It is a splendid and deeply moving rendering, and there are many such moments found here. Hans Hotter Singt will doubtless appeal to Hotter's fans, but for those who are unacquainted with his voice, it will also serve as a satisfactory introduction to Hotter's unique and very special gifts.