> America the Beautiful. Great voices in patriotic song [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- Aug 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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America the Beautiful. Great voices in patriotic song
The Star-Spangled Banner
America, the Beautiful
Battle Hymn of the Republic
Over There
Keep the Home Fires Burning
For your country and my country
There’s a long, long trail
Send me away with a smile
God be with our boys tonight
When you come back
When the boys come home
My own United States
The Americans come
I spoke to Jefferson at Guadalcanal
The Army Air Corps
Wings over the Navy
The house I live in
God bless America

Emma Eames, Louise Homer, Enrico Caruso, Rosa Ponselle, Frances Alda, Riccardo Stracciari, John McCormack, Ernestine Schumann-Heink, Geraldine Farrar, Lucy Monroe, Lawrence Tibbett, Richard Crooks, Conrad Thibault, John Charles Thomas, Emile Renan, Lauritz Melchior, Lotte Lehmann, Leonard Warren – with various accompanists.
Recorded 1905-50
ROMOPHONE 87002-2 [72’00]


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This is the first CD I have seen which touches, even obliquely, on the events of September 11th. In the context of a paragraph on the relationship between patriotism and recordings sleeve writer David Marmelstein notes the willingness of artists in times of such crises to place themselves in the service of what he terms ‘political ends’ and to act as unifying agents. Be that as it may this disc – up to Romophone’s expected high standard in matters of presentation, sound and documentation – gives us eighteen singers in twenty-three patriotic American songs (three are repeated by other performers) in recordings that span the first half of the twentieth century.

Ten of the eighteen singers were American born and we get underway in ultra patriotic fashion with Emma Eames’ The Star-Spangled Banner, recorded in 1905. This was actually twenty-five years before it was finally adopted as America’s anthem and Eames sings it with flair and subtle rubato and the interpolated high B Flat. As for the copy it’s an excellent one; little wear, no blasting at climaxes and well transferred. Louise Homer stretches the line of the Battle Hymn of the Republic with practised musicality before Caruso appears with his famous recording of Over There. He flings himself into this with much fruity rolling of his "r" and expressive colouring. It can’t be denied however that the great man is notably more relaxed and confident singing in French than English. Rosa Ponselle sings Ivor Novello is not an album title that had ever occurred to me but she sings Keep the Home Fires Burning with silvered finesse and has the backing of a delicate little chorus as well. The little orchestra employed for Marchesi student and one of New Zealand’s greatest singers Frances Alda included one of the most energetic side drummers known to discographic history. The brass is slightly recessed in this 1917 version of For your country and my country but Alda is very sprightly and enthusiastic.

Stracciari had his hands full in There’s a long long trail but amongst the vocal quartet is a bantam tenor who ignores the proprieties of blending and makes a bid for freedom. McCormack is nonpareil as usual – full of bonhomie and ardent minstrelsy in Send me away with a smile, plangent in God be with our boys tonight and full of jaunty confidence in When you come back – no ifs and buts when the Count sings it. Schumann-Heink was, remarkably, seventy when she recorded Taps. The voice is frayed of course and weather-beaten but she marshals her reserves with skill. Thirteen years earlier she had sung When the Boys come home – strong chest voice, resonant and well supported lower voice and her casual interpolation of a few bars of The Star-Spangled Banner. Farrar is splendid in the last mentioned and Lucy Monroe sings America very slowly and caressingly. Tibbett is stout and proudly barrel-chested in My own United States and Richard Crooks is all lyric confidence in his one outing on The Americans come. Conrad Thibault gives us the shivering melodrama of I spoke to Jefferson at Guadalcanal - decent enough voice with a lot of warmth. The rather comic chorus in The Army Air Corps is as nothing to the glitzy orchestration. Conrad Thibault lassoes the song rather as John Wayne would bring down a heifer. Some unusual goings on enlivens Wings over the Navy in which Emile Renan is accompanied by, of all things, the British Fusiliers Military Band. They make a raunchy noise and so does Renan. Melchior appears in the schmaltzy, frankly God-awful The House I live in, only saved from sheer RCA Victor corn by virtue of the Great Dane’s entirely unintelligible English – at least we’re spared the words. Lotte Lehmann shows her colleague how to sing in English in her two selections and Leonard Warren’s rather constricted baritone brings the recital to an end with two favourites once more – America the beautiful and the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

As I mentioned earlier the production values are of the highest with all transfers made by Mark Obert-Thorn. Seventy-two minutes of patriotic song by some of the stellar artists of the century and not a dull moment.

Jonathan Woolf

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