Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is an interesting, if uneven, collection of Donizetti arias and duets comprising nineteen acoustic and eleven electrical recordings spanning forty years. The bias here seems to be towards singers more familiar to, and more according to the taste of, British collectors. This is so much so that certain choices are, to say the least, eccentric. I wonder, for example, who decided that the duet from “Lucia di Lammermoor” by Pertile and Anna Rosza merited inclusion, given that he is so stylistically inept and incongruous and she so dull and droopy. Or who opted for the tame and indifferently sung 1947 account of “Cheti, cheti, immantinente” when we might have had the celebrated 1907 version by Giuseppe de Luca and Ferruccio Corradetti? There is no Sembrich, no Renaud, no Galli-Curci, no Pini-Corsi, and a case might be made for the inclusion of many another singer omitted here – but that is in the nature of compilations and there are still many treasures to enjoy amid some less than stellar performances.
After so many lighter tenors with sometimes comically tremulous vibratos such as Albani and Anselmi, it is certainly a pleasure to stumble across the dark, velvety tenor of Alfred Piccaver and the virile, metallic voice of Giovanni Martinelli – but no voice is more stentorian than that of the delightful and redoubtable six-foot-contralto Dame Clara Butt in the showpiece “Il segreto”, unless it is the rounded splendour of great French bass Marcel Journet, who is given two arias in which to display his chestnut tones. Lovely, too, to hear a great bronze-voiced baritone like Riccardo Stracciari rein in his vibrant tone to sing with restraint and elegance in “Vien, Leonora” from “La favorita”, just occasionally allowing a veiled passion to emerge through the intensity of his mezza di voce. It is also good to hear the sixty-five-year-old Matti Battistini, still extraordinarily elegant yet also sounding almost improvisational in his freedom with the notes and text without being wilful. His elder by three years but recorded much earlier is baritone Franceso Navarrini, who has slightly laboured top notes but is a model of Donizettian comedic style. I cannot say the same for the aria which opens the disc; Mario Stabile’s dim rendering of “Cruda funesta smania” is in rather nasal style and indulges in clumsy rallentandi. Matters pick up with the extraordinary pure, piping, disembodied coloratura of Luisa Tetrazzini as Lucia. She balances the brilliance of her top notes by drawing on a salty lower register. However, it is not she but Toti dal Monte who gets the lion’s share of soprano arias on this compilation, including the extended Mad Scene from “Lucia di Lammermoor”. One of the great delights of this double disc is her famous collaboration with the grainy, satinate tenor of Tito Schipa, who also contributes a melting “Una furtive lagrima”. There is both aesthetic and curiosity value in hearing the thirty-year-old Lauri-Volpi intone “Spirto gentil” rather strenuously – but he is another tenor whose youthful voice was characterised by so marked a vibrato that it sits ill with some modern ears; I much prefer the smoother, burnished tenor of Renato Zanelli in which you may still hear his baritone roots. Sigrid Onegin sings “O mio Fernando” in stately fashion but makes little dramatic impact.
The concluding extended duet which brings down the curtain on “Lucia” is evidently meant to represent the climax to this two-disc gala. I am afraid that I am one of those who does not really respond to Gigli in lachrymose vein. That said, I realise that I am in a minority here and others will revel in it. This is especially the case as he is paired with perhaps the greatest Italian bass ever, Ezio Pinza. He is also allocated a majestic aria from “La favorita”, “Splendon più bello”, which he sings with his customary grave authority and richness of timbre.
Transfers are as good as ever from Nimbus.
This set represents a pleasing, if slightly obtuse and incomplete survey of Donizetti singing from the first part of the twentieth century.
Ralph Moore, MusicWeb International