In addition to his work as a playwright, actor, songwriter, and director, Noël Coward also periodically made recordings of his compositions (and a few written by others) over the course of his career. This compilation, taking advantage of the 50-year copyright limit on recordings in Europe, presents the highlights of the tracks he made for HMV Records between 1928 (his first session) and 1941. It includes his versions of such favorites as "Mad Dogs and Englishmen," "The Stately Homes of England," "Mrs. Worthington," "London Pride," and "I'll See You Again." A 1932 medley starts things off, gathering together some pre-1928 hits: "Parisian Pierrot," "Poor Little Rich Girl," "A Room with a View," and "Dance, Little Lady." Excerpts from the Coward plays Private Lives and Shadow Play find Coward trading dialogue with Gertrude Lawrence before both break into song. Mastered from 78s, the tracks sometimes suffer from surface noise, and the earlier ones have a primitive sound. (Things improve noticeably with "The Stately Homes of England," recorded in 1938.) Although of limited voice, Coward is a perfect interpreter of his own songs, lending them the appropriate sincerity or clipped phrasing, depending on whether heartfelt ballads or witty novelty tunes are being performed. A couple of his better songs from this period, "Mad About the Boy" and "I'll Follow My Secret Heart," are missing, but you can't blame the compilers because Coward didn't record his own versions of them in this period. Of course, songs written after 1941 also are not included. But the collection does live up to its subtitle, "His Greatest Recordings," at least for the 13-year period under consideration.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann