Notes and Editorial Reviews
A snapshot of the art of American mezzo Nan Merriman.
This is a snapshot of the art of American mezzo Nan Merriman. The earliest items are the 1943 NBC/Toscanini excerpts from Don Carlo and Rigoletto and the most recent is the long example from Otello, recorded in London in 1957. In between we have a variety of items, well selected to showcase her strengths. Given, though, the nature of these selections it’s an inherently unbalanced disc with the two long, quarter of an hour extracts from Otello and Rigoletto, sitting among the much slimmer examples of her art. As long as one appreciates the fact one can enjoy the arias that much the better.
The Gluck Orfeo, with which the disc starts, is not the famous Toscanini performance where Merriman is, if anything too eager to please, too warm. Weissmann was no Toscanini but he coaxes from her arguably a better performance of Che farò. Her Italian repertoire was a great strength as the sole Donizetti shows – it’s strongly characterised and convincingly done. Rather more in fact than her Otello with colleagues Elizabeth Fretwell and Alexander Young in this HMV recording conducted by Walter Süsskind. Young is recorded spatially and it sounds rather contrived but Merriman evinces attractive tonal warmth, singing with technical assurance and some portamenti to ensure a fluid legato. One’s only criticism; here maybe just a touch lacking in theatrical presence. The live Don Carlo extract finds the NBC commentator talking across the opening bars but once past that blip one sits back to enjoy the frisson of broadcast adrenalin injected by the conductor. It inspires Merriman to more-than-usual volatility and here her chest voice is prominent. It’s exciting evidence of the way she could be encouraged or cajoled by a great conductor into giving of her best in concert.
The Rigoletto extract was recorded at the same concert. It finds Jan Peerce in characteristically manly if not always exceptionally subtle voice. Moscona is better and the ensemble better still. This is another famous example of Toscanini in concert and he proves a masterly controller of tension, though it would have been helpful if the extract had been internally banded.
Merriman’s Carmen is once more an attractive if not always penetrating impersonation – she’s just a touch too statuesque and not quite saucy enough. The de Falla extracts derive from the complete recording under Stokowski on RCA Victor. It’s a pity really that we don’t have the whole lot since not only do we have three songs as it is but also the performance is so good, Stokowski so evocative and the recording gives prominence to Merriman’s voice. The last example of her art is from Bernstein’s Jeremiah Symphony. Her singing of the Lamentation is assured and rewarding.
The transfers are pretty reasonable, the notes concise.
--Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International