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THE GOLDEN AGE OF SINGING Volume two 1910-1920
Complete track listing and artist rosta below
NIMBUS NI7052-3 2CD [2hr 30m]

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It has been a pleasure to refresh my memories of the miraculously alive sounds of voices from the early days of recording in my Prima Voce collection. The standard in this new compilation is enviably high, reflecting the vast collection of mint-quality ancient 78s upon which Nimbus can draw for their unique processing method, which is a model of discretion, with strictly limited remastering interference. I feel very privileged to have attended their launch at Covent Garden ten years ago, when there was a side by side demonstration of the first few of their now over a hundred CDs alongside the originals played on a horn gramophone, used for making the transfers.

Making this selection of 37 operatic stars must have occasioned some very pleasurable meetings and discussions. The first of the two CDs is especially notable for its exploration of lesser-known singers, and of arias and operas far from the hackneyed mainstream - lots of delightful surprises. That makes it untiring for listening to straight through. I, personally, thrill to the quaint, archaic boxed-sound of the little accompanying orchestras recaptured by the needle (its sound not eliminated) even before the singers enter with unbelievable purity and presence, given the 80 to 90 years that have passed - one is quickly so engrossed as to sweep away all thought of modern hi-fi. My only live memory of these singers is one of Lotte Lehmann, who was still giving master-classes at Wigmore Hall not so long before her death at nearly 90 in 1976.

John Steane, whose Wigmore Hall lecture was reviewed recently in S&H June 00, writes an illuminating essay here to place each of the singers in context, and he anticipates Nimbus's Volume 3, which includes 'a strong infusion of German' with a group of singers who provided 'the nucleus for casts that probably never have been matched'. He is a reliable guide, and I look forward equally to Volume 3 of his own books on the subject, due out soon.

I do have one regret about Nimbus's presentation, whilst realising that this is an inexpensive re-issue compilation. Obviously the emphasis is, and always will be, about voice per se, but I find their synopses of the individual tracks unhelpful and rather banal - there are only so many emotional situations for the arias upon which the changes are wrung, and it is generally obvious whether a singer is ecstatic, furious or suicidal. The placing of each aria in the plot does little to assist.

All operatic vocal expertise of technique and expression is based upon singing words, and without those before us there is a tendency to listen to the singers as if they were instrumentalists - in which case, I'd prefer to listen to a violinist!

There is an obvious need for a book which would bring together in easily accessible form all the standard, most frequently recorded and popular arias, and it could be to the ultimate advantage of the rival producers of historic vocal recordings to collaborate on that venture?

Is it not time for Nimbus to grasp the nettle and produce a comprehensive CD-Rom which provides texts and translations of all the operatic scenes and arias in their Prima Voce collection, together with pictures of the singers in their roles if available?

The technology is readily available and this approach is now commonplace, exemplified in BBC Music Magazine's excellent cover CD-Roms. Buyers will soon begin to insist on more, and recognising this need might bring in a whole new multitude of potential purchasers amongst music lovers who tend to avoid this repertoire.

But don't let me put you off buying this splendid double-CD; several hours of keen enjoyment guaranteed.


Peter Grahame Woolf


Disc One
1 JOHN McCORMACK (1884-1945)
LA FIGLIA DEL REGGIMENTO, Donizetti, Per viver vicino 3.39
Rec: 23 March 1910 Matrix: C8739-1 Victor Cat: 88245
2 ENRICO CARUSO (1873-1921)
LO SCHIAVO, Gomes, Qui fortuna insistenza ... Quando nascesti tu 4.15
Rec: 19 November 1911 Matrix: C11273-2 Victor Cat: 88345
3 EDMOND CLÉMENT (1867-1928)
MANON, Massenet, En fermant les yeux (Dream) 3.46
Rec: 6 November 1911 Matrix: C11191-1 Victor Cat: 74258
4 MARIA GAY (1879-1943)
CARMEN, Bizet, L'amour est un oiseau rebelle (Habañera) 3.09
Rec: 1911 Matrix: 657 Columbia Cat: A 5279
5 ALMA GLUCK (1884-1938)
PAGLIACCI, Leoncavallo, Quel fiamma avea nel guardo! ... Stridono lassu (Ballatella) 4.36
Rec: 16 May 1911 Matrix: C10091-3 Victor Cat: 74238
THE OPRICHNIK, Tchaikovsky, The nightingale in the grove 3.40
Rec: 31 October 1911 Matrix: 2520c Gramophone Cat: 023090
L'AFRICANA, Mayerbeer, Averla tanto amata 3.46
Rec: 25 May 1912 Matrix: 216 AF HMV Cat: 052359
LA FAVORITA, Donizetti, O mio Fernando 4.29
Rec: 8 March 1912 Matrix: C11686-1 Victor Cat: 88363
9 BERNARDO DE MURO (1881-1955)
ISABEAU, Mascagni, Tu ch'odi lo mio grido 4.22
Rec: 7 March 1912 Matrix: 02347V HMV Cat: 052339
DIE ZAUBERFLÖTE, Mozart, Der Hölle Rache 3.03
Rec: 17 April 1912 Matrix: 2590c Gramophone Cat: 023101
11 TITTA RUFFO (1877-1953)
PAGLIACCI, Leoncavallo, Si puó? 8.12
Rec: September 1912 Matrix: 462ai/467ai HMV Cat: 052381/052379
12 ALEXANDR ALEXANDROVICH (1881-after 1955)
DER FLIEGENDE HOLLÄNDER, Wagner, Mit Gewitter und Sturm 3.33
Rec: 2 April 1913 Matrix: 17392b Gramophone Cat: 4-22647
A LIFE FOR THE TSAR, Glinka, I do not grieve for that 4.20
Rec: 28 October 1913 Matrix: 2882c Gramophone Cat: 023150
14 FRIEDA HEMPEL (1885-1955)
ROBERT LE DIABLE, Meyerbeer, Robert, toi que j'aime 4.13
Rec: 30 May 1913 Matrix: 720M HMV Cat: 033165
15 ELENA KATULSKAYA (1888-1966)
MIREILLE, Gounod, O légère hirondelle 2.28
Rec: 2 April 1913 Matrix: 17391b Gramophone Cat: 2-23749
16 NELLIE MELBA (1861-1931)
LOUISE, Charpentier, Depuis le jour 2.53
Rec: 3 October 1913 Matrix: C-13900-2 Victor Cat: 88477
17 TITO SCHIPA (1889-1965)
LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR, Donizetti, Tu che a Dio spiegasti l'ali 2.42
Rec: November 1913 Matrix: 2894 AH HMV Cat: 7-52123
18 LEV SIBIRYAKOV (1869-1942)
JUDITH, Serov, Cease your grumbling 3.29
Rec: 15 March 1913 Matrix: 2730c Gramophone Cat: 022319
19 FRANCES ALDA (1883-1952)
LA BOHÉME, Puccini, Donde lieta usci 3.11
Rec: 1914 Matrix: B14497-1 Victor Cat: unpublished
Disc Two
1 PASQUALE AMATO (1878-1942)
UN BALLO IN MASCHERA, Verdi, Eri tu 4.42
Rec: 23 January 1914 Matrix: C11605-3 Victor Cat: 88464
2 EMMY DESTINN (1878-1930)
LA GIOCONDA, Ponchielli, Suicidio 4.02
Rec: 9 April 1914 Matrix: C14509-2 Victor Cat: 88478
TOSCA, Puccini, E lucevan le stelle 2.31
Rec: 8 January 1914 Matrix: 14277-1 Victor Cat: 64393
4 LUISA TETRAZZINI (1871-1940)
LINDA DI CHAMOUNIX, Donizetti, O luce di quest' anima 4.36
Rec: 13 May 1914 Matrix: C14817-2 Victor Cat: 88506
5 LOTTE LEHMANN (1888-1976)
TANNHÄUSER, Wagner, Dich teure Halle 3.41
Rec: December 1916 Matrix: 1101M Polydor Cat: 72902
6 MABEL GARRISON (1886-1963)
LES CONTES D'HOFFMANN, Offenbach, Les oiseaux dans la charmille 4.37
Rec: 6 June 1916 Matrix: C17804-1 Victor Cat: 74482
7 GIUSEPPE DE LUCA (1876-1950)
IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA, Rossini, Largo al factotum 4.17
Rec: 1917 Matrix: 19163 Victor Cat: 6077
8 MARIA IVOGÜN (1891-1987)
DIE LUSTIGEN WEIBER VON WINDSOR, Nicolai, Nun eilt' herbei 4.44
Rec: 1917 Matrix: xxB 6383-2 Odeon Cat: 76811
9 MARCEL JOURNET (1867-1933)
LA FAVORITE, Donizetti, Redoutez la fureur d'un Dieu (Anathème de Balthazar) 3.26
Rec: 30 March 1925 Matrix: A1897 Columbia Cat: X334
RIGOLETTO, Verdi, Cortigiani, vil razza dannata 4.02
Rec: c. 1917 Matrix: 2535 Columbia Cat: 49192
11 GERALDINE FARRAR (1882-1967)
THAÏS, Massenet, Te souvient-il du lumineux voyage 3.45
Rec: 2 April 1918 Matrix: C19422-7 Victor Cat: 88594
12 JOSEPH SCHWARZ (1880-1926)
TANNHÄUSER, Wagner, O du, mein holder Abendstern 4.34
Rec: c. 1918 Matrix: 1405s Polydor Cat: 042539
13 AMELITA GALLI-CURCI (1882-1963)
MIGNON, Thomas, Io son Titania 4.39
Rec: 4 September 1919 Matrix: C23131 Victor Cat: 74608
14 SELMA KURZ (1874-1933)
RIGOLETTO, Verdi, Caro nome 3.47
Rec: c. 1919 Matrix: 1294AS Polydor Cat: J24013
15 SIGRID ONEGIN (1889-1943)
SAMSON ET DALILA, Saint-Saëns, Printemps qui commence 4.01
Rec: 1919 Matrix: 1469s Polydor Cat: 043323
16 ROSA PONSELLE (1897-1981)
TOSCA, Puccini, Vissi d'arte 3.17
Rec: 7 January 1919 Matrix: 49569-5 Columbia Cat: 68059D
17 RENATO ZANELLI (1892-1935)
ZAZÁ, Leoncavallo, Zazá, piccola zingara 2.33
Rec: 16 December 1919 Matrix: B23157-4 Victor Cat: 64907
18 MARIA BARRIENTOS (1883-1946)
IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA, Rossini, Una voce poco fa 7.25
Rec: 19 April 1920 Matrix: 497931-2/41-2 Columbia Cat: 7070M


Peter Grahame Woolf

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