I own all the "complete" PORGY AND BESS recordings and a number of highlights issues as well. There are points in favor of all of them, and I like all of them for different reasons. I grew up on the old RCA highlights of PORGY with Leontyne Price and William Warfield. Here they are, caught a decade earlier in a decently-recorded live performance from 1952, and what a performance it is, broadcast in very good sound by a Berlin radio station and well-preserved. In some ways, its theatricality even eclipses that of the ultra-complete Houston Grand Opera version (which remains the best version overall). But anyone who loves this opera should definitely hear this vivid and thrilling performance as well.
Warfield is superb, completely absorbed in his part and moving beyond belief. Price, in some ways, is even better here than on the later studio recording (though, there, admittedly, it is wonderful to have her singing Clara's and Serena's solos as well. The voice is perhaps not as rich as it would become in the 1960s, but it's already a major voice, incredibly lovely and beautiful to hear. She too exhibits a deep involvement in the role and I defy anyone to resist "I loves you, Porgy" in this performance. Cab Calloway is Cab Calloway, and he's terrific, creating a vivid Sportin' Life and mostly observing the notes, though "There's a boat that's leaving soon" gets the full Calloway treatment. Irresistible. The Crown was in rough voice that evening but he never cheats, and he's convincing in his meanness and bravado.
The secondary characters are all splendid, and some of the most surprisingly wonderful moments come from them, too. The audience (otherwise unheard) breaks into applause for "Strawberry Woman" and you can hear why. A few moments are unquestionably the best in the PORGY canon - the little trio wherein the ladies persuade the police that "Serena been in bed three days and we been nursing her" is hilarious and lovely at the same time.
Of course, there are cuts, but Porgy gets his Buzzard Song, and none of the cuts are disfiguring; Maria's "rap" song ("I hates yo' struttin' style") is the biggest loss. This performance moves propulsively and it sweeps the listener along with it. The sound is good radio broadcast quality from 1952, and everything is clear, with almost no distortion to speak of. This is a wonderful performance. Yes, you should also own one of the later complete recordings for the sake of completeness, sound and whichever performances you're attracted to. I'd opt either for the Decca/London or the RCA Houston Grand Opera version. The latter is the more theatrical, the former slightly better sung. Some critics prefer the EMI/Rattle recording but, good as it is, I can't quite rake up their level of enthusiasm, though Willard White is excellent as Porgy. This recording, however, is a WINNER and well worth hearing. Don't miss it! This performance ROCKS!