One of the essential anthologies of recorded vocal art, to be placed alongside EMI's "Record of Singing" and Pearl's Covent Garden and Russian collections.
Here is one of the essential anthologies of recorded vocal art, to be placed alongside EMI's "Record of Singing" and Pearl's Covent Garden and Russian collections. The list of singers alone suggests something of its scope, and those of our readers who have the other volumes mentioned here will know that such lists are apt to take a different shape in the mind as the records are sampled. To the non-specialist they often look formidable, the eye lighting gratefully on a name that is still well known, such as Patti, Caruso, Chaliapin in the first volume; Supervia, Gigli, Pinza in the second. The usual experience then is that you come away with a very different list of highlights (here it might be Mazzoleni, Parsi-Pettinella, Bonci, Giraldoni, Didur in Vol. 1; Anrangi-Lombardi, Malipiero, Bechi, De Angelis, Pasero in Vol. 2). The names also gain in resonance by association within the history of a great house. Some of the singers took part in historic first performances there and are heard in the parts they 'created'--Tamagno and Maurel in Otello, Maurel in Falstaff, Sammarco in Andrea Chénier, De Lucia in Iris, Caruso in Germania, Pertile and Journet in Boito's Nerone, for example. Others (Bellincioni as Violetta, Stabile as Falstaff, Schipa as Werther) are presented in roles for which they became famous in their day and for which their names live in histories, biographies and other chronicles of the time. And the singers are 'framed' by recordings which bear the greatest name of all among the performers, for Toscanini, who first conducted at La Scala in 1898, opens and cloese the anthology with a Verdi overture and prelude played under him in the reconstructed La Scala of 1946 and recorded in 1951.
A good anthology contains probably three-parts 'finds', one-part 'favourites'. You have to allow for a certain amount of duplication. Anybody interested in this line of business will almost certainly have already CD transfers of Patti's La sonnambula aria, Maurel's "Quand'ero paggio", Tamagno's Death of Otello. In some instances they are unlikely to have such good transfers--the Tamagno is an example. However, one record will assuredly be new to their collection, and that is also by Tamagno. In the mid-1980s an agreeable shiver of excitement passed through the thinning ranks of connoisseur-collectors, and before long the pages of The Record Collector were enlivened by claims and counter-claims such as usually attned the discovery of a lost Rembrandt or the Grand Duke's rubies. The cause of excitement here was a recording made in 1904 and playing for about 90 seconds. It was in fact a 'new' Tamagno--not an alternative take of an already published title, but a solo from De Lara's Messalina--and it now appears 'in public' for the first time. When the excitement subsides I'm not sure we shall find our knowledge of Tamagno greatly extended, but it is a fine example of his singing, reproduced with striking immediacy and reinforcing what the other records tell about the first Otello, that he had not merely the voice of a warrior-king among tenors but also the soul of an artist.
Otherwise, though there are many super-rarities, including some delightful ones such as the serenade from Leoncavallo's I Medici recorded in 1903 by Giuseppe Kaschmann, the collection does not contain notable unpublished items. It has not been able to draw upon live recordings (apart from a lugubrious performance of the Soldiers' chorus from Il trovatore) such as those experimentally made at Covent Garden from 1926 onwards. As a history in sound it is invaluable yet inevitably incomplete, a point touched on in the notes in Vol. 2. The transfers raise some queries about pitch. Some (the Patti, Bellincioni, Bonci, De Lucia, Caruso La bohème, Pareto, Schipa Werther) are widely accepted as transpositions by the singer. Boninsegna's "O patria mia" may be another, but Garbin's "Guardate, pazzo son", Giraldoni's Onegin, Chaliapin's Mefistofele, Stracciari's "Di Provenza" and the Supervia/Ferraris Hänsel und Gretel are all down a semitone too. The Otello solos by de Negri have the first at score-pitch, the second a semitone below, and the two voices cannot be reconciled. Battistini's La favorita aria is both wrongly pitched and wrongly documented. The date, catalogue and matrix numbers are those of the 1906 "A tanto amor", whereas the record is the 1913 "Vien, Leonora". These blemishes are nevertheless more incidental than they might appear to be. The historical field has been researched with painstaking thoroughness, and the anthology bears ample witness to the expertise of its compiler. As the last of Keith Hardwick's large-scale productions for EMI (and it dates back quite a few years, which may account for some of the points raised) it will stand as the achievement of a long-cherished plan, imaginatively conceived, worthily executed.
-- Gramophone [4/1994, reviewing both
and Volume 2 of the La Scala Edition]