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Enrico CARUSO, tenor (1873-1921): The Complete Recordings. Volume 12 (1919-1920)
DE CRESCENZO ‘Première caresse’
Ernesto DE CURTIS (1875-1937) ‘Senza nisciuno’
Antonio Carlos GOMES (1836-1899) Salvator Rosa, ‘Mia piccirella’
BRACCO ‘Serenata’
FUCITO ‘Scordame’
SECCHI ‘Love me or not’
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759) Serse,
‘Ombra mai fu’.
PASADAS ‘Noche feliz’
Jacques Francois HALÉVY (1799-1862) La Juive, ‘Rachel, quand du Seigneur’
GIOÈ ‘I’m’arricordo ‘e Napule’
DONAUDY ‘Vaghissima sembianza’
Giacomo MEYERBEER (1791-1864) L’Africaine, ‘Deh, ch’io ritorni’
Jean-Baptiste LULLY (1632-1687) Amadis de Gaule, ‘Bois épais’
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868) Petite Messe Solenelle, ‘Domine Deus’ ‘Crucifixus’

CARUSO ‘Liberty Forever’
EDWARDS ‘My Cousin Caruso’. Sung by Billy May
FRANCHETTI Germania, ‘Studenti, udite’ (Caruso’s recording of 11th April 1902)
Recorded in Camden, New Jersey, in September 1919, January, and September 1920. Accompanied by the ‘Victor Orchestra’/Josef Pasternack except tr.18 played by the ‘Victor military band’
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This is the final volume in Ward Marston’s re-masterings of Caruso’s Victor recordings. It covers the sessions on September 16th 1920, just fourteen weeks before his final stage appearance on Christmas Eve of that year. As I noted in my review of Volume 10 in this series, by about 1915 Caruso had recorded all the main arias from the roles in his stage repertoire. He and The Victor Record Company sought other items that suited his voice and which would generate sales. Firm favourites in this respect were Neapolitan songs from a host of relatively minor composers but which were easy on the ear and popular. What these songs illustrate on this disc is the baritonal quality that the tenor’s voice had acquired by 1919. However, like Domingo in our time, who recorded a light-toned Nemorino in ‘L’Elisir d’amore’ whilst Otello was in his repertoire, Caruso could also still lighten his tone. This ability is evident in listening to the songs by De Curtis and Bracco (trs. 3 and 5) either side of ‘Mia picarella’ from Gomes’ ‘Salvator Rosa’ which is a soprano aria transposed down by a ninth for the tenor. It is also germane to remember that in December 1920 Caruso also sang Nemorino as well as the distinctly heavier, more heroic, roles of Samson and Eleazer from ‘La Juive’. Indeed, it was during a performance of Samson in early December that Caruso was hit above the kidney by a falling pillar. A week later he sang the whole of Act I of ‘L’Elisir’ whilst wiping blood from his mouth and the performance had to be abandoned. His final stage appearance was in ‘La Juive’ and his heroic firmness and baritonal hue is heard here (tr. 10) as is his ability for expression and characterisation.

Elsewhere on this disc Caruso’s acquired capacity in languages is evident with tracks sung in French, (trs. 2, 10 and 14), in English, (trs. 7 and 15), in Spanish (tr. 9) and in Latin (trs 16-17). In stylistic terms both the Handel (tr. 8) and Lully (tr. 14) are completely different to what we now understand and expect in this genre. Caruso sounds particularly lugubrious in the opening recitative of ‘Ombra mai fu’ but floats a lovely ‘mezza voce’ at the start of the aria proper whilst by 2:28 it could be the baritone De Luca singing, such is the vocal timbre. The appendix includes (tr. 20) a repeat of Franchetti’s ‘Studente udite’, Caruso’s first recording. It is included here because, as the producer notes, ‘It happened that some months after the release of volume 1 in this series, a mint first stamper pressing came to light. I decided then to share it with you, here at the end of our journey with this most colossal of tenors’.

This journey with the tenor ‘who made the gramophone and was made by the gramophone’, has been marked by the distinction of Caruso’s singing and also Ward Marston’s re-masterings. We can but conjecture as to what future technological developments will emerge as to allow the drawing of even greater detail from the original 78s. However, we can hope that an engineer and artist, for it is a subtle combination of science and art, of the calibre of Marston is around to take advantage. In respect of the final years of Caruso’s life, enthusiasts should also listen to the narrative on CD 4 of ‘Enrico Caruso. A Life in words and music’ written and narrated by David Timson and which deals with those years and the injury that contributed to the singer’s tragically premature death at the age of 49.

Robert J Farr

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