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John McCormack - Vol. 7: 1916-18 Acoustic Recordings
Tito MATTEI (1841 – 1914)
1. Non è ver [3:55]
Joachim RAFF (1822 – 1882)
2. Serenade [2:32]
Jacques OFFENBACH (1819-1880)
Les contes d’Hoffmann
3. Barcarolle [2:33]
Richard WAGNER (1813 – 1883)
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
4. Morning was gleaming (Prize Song) [3:57]
Fritz KREISLER (1875 – 1962)
5. Cradle Song 1915 [3:16]
Michael BALFE (1808 – 1870)
The Bohemian Girl
6. Then you’ll remember me [3:11]
Lilian RAY (d 1949) (pseudonym for John Neat)
7. The sunshine of your smile [3:00]
8. Love, here is my heart [3:11]
9. Tommy Lad [2:27]
Ernest R. BALL (1878 – 1927)
10. When Irish eyes are smiling [3:10]
Jean-Baptiste FAURE (1830 – 1914)
11. Crucifix [3:11]
John Stafford SMITH (1750 – 1836)
12. The star spangled banner [2:49]
Victor HERBERT (1859 – 1924)
13. Ireland, my Ireland [2:43]
14. Eileen (Alanna Asthore) [2:20]
Wilfred SANDERSON (1878 – 1935)
15. The trumpet call [2:23]
Ivor NOVELLO (1893 – 1951)
16. Keep the home fires burning [3:11]
Alonzo ELLIOT (1891 – 1989)
17. There’s a long, long trail [3:24]
Herman LÖHR (1871 – 1943)
18. Any place is Heaven if you are near me [2:51]
Gustave FERRARI (1872 – 1948)
19. The rainbow of love [2:54]
Jean-Baptiste FAURE
20. Crucifix [3:11]
Al PIANTADOSI /1884 – 1955)
21. Send me away with a smile [2:49]
22. Send me away with a smile [3:20]
Etienne MÉHUL (1783 – 1817)
Joseph en Égypte
23. Champs paternels [4:24]
Frances ALLITSON (d 1912)
24. The Lord is my light [3:18]
25. God be with our boys tonight [3:27]
Francis DOREL
26. Calling me home to you [2:26]
John McCormack (tenor)
Fritz Kreisler (violin) (2, 3), Dominic Melillo (harp) (13, 14), Rosario Bourdon (celesta) (19), Reinald Werrenrath (baritone) (11, 20); Edwin Schneider (piano) (2, 3), all other items with orchestra/Walter B Rogers (1, 4-6), Rosario Bourdon (7-11), Joseph Pasternack (12, 15-20, 22-26), Victor Herbert (13, 14), Edward King (21)
rec. 9 May 1916 – 30 April 1918
NAXOS 8.112018 [79:52]
Experience Classicsonline

Having reviewed three previous volumes in this series I have more or less run out of superlatives for this fantastic singer and a sneaky way of getting round this problem is to refer readers to the earlier reviews: Volume 2, Volume 5 and Volume 6. Those who feel reluctant to spend an evening with those perhaps overlong appreciations may be satisfied with what I wrote as a kind of summary about Volume 6: ‘even though there may be songs one doesn’t exactly long to hear again for the musical quality there are still things to admire from the point of view of pure singing: the perfect line, the excellent diction or the sensitive turn of a phrase.’ To this should be added: ‘the sheer beauty of his voice’. Few singers in recorded history have possessed cleaner voices, more natural and – a contradiction of terms – artlessly artful. In that respect his closest relative is possibly the eminent Danish tenor Aksel Schiøtz. They hardly ever forced the tone beyond their natural limits and they both sounded like the boy next door who happened to like singing a tune in the shower – but so extremely thought through and with such feeling.
After winning a Gold Medal for his singing in 1903 – he was only nineteen then - John McCormack in due time went to Italy for further training in Milan under the renowned maestro Vincenzo Sabatini. After less than a year he was judged ready for his debut in opera and in January 1906 he entered the stage at the Teatro Chiabrera in Savona, on the Gulf of Genoa, where he sang the title role in Mascagni’s L’amico Fritz. From 1907 until the outbreak of WW1 he sang at Covent Garden. Eventually he realized that his acting abilities were rather limited and quit opera altogether to concentrate on a career as a concert singer, where he gained fame and became the highest paid artist in the world. He was also a prolific recording artist and the sales of his records challenged and sometimes even surpassed Caruso’s. He recorded quite a lot of opera arias and ensembles but gradually the popular songs and sentimental ballads came to dominate. Even on this volume, however, there are a few operatic excerpts, the most exceptional being the Prize Song from Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. A tenor excelling in roles like Gérald in Lakmé, the Duke in Rigoletto, Elvino in La sonnambula, Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor and Faust in Boito’s Mefistofele – those were his roles at Covent Garden – is hardly likely to essay the role of Walther von Stolzing, not even isolated arias. But McCormack’s dream had long been to sing Wagner and in 1916, when he was at the height of his powers, he felt ready for it. A year earlier he had recorded the Prize Song with Fritz Kreisler but that recording was never published. Here, with The Victor Orchestra backing him, he amply demonstrates that a lyrical voice can bring out the poetry of the aria that heavier voices can kill. He sings with his customary elegance and control and never tries to press on for more volume. The result is captivating. This recording should be a model for aspiring Wagnerian tenors, just as much as his justly famous Il mio tesoro from Don Giovanni (on Volume 6) has long been for Mozart tenors. It should be mentioned that another famous lyric tenor, Richard Tauber, also recorded Stolzing’s arias in 1927 with likewise excellent results.
There are a couple of other opera excerpts as well. Joseph’s Champs paternels from Méhul’s Joseph en Egypte is, I believe, the only survivor from this once popular 1807 score. Modern recordings are scarce even of this aria. The only recording I could find in my own collection was Leopold Simoneau’s, and it is more than fifty years old. In an old copy of Gramophone’s catalogue a disc with Laurence Dale from 1989 was listed – but that’s all I have been able to find. Sung in French by McCormack his reading stands up even against Simoneau’s, most of whose recordings tend to be models, as far as I am concerned. The Barcarolle from Les contes d’Hoffmann is an adaptation of the soprano-mezzo duet, but it is beautiful. With fine obbligato playing by Fritz Kreisler this is a collector’s item as is Raff’s Serenade, recorded on the same day. There McCormack sounds very distant, and so he does at the beginning of the Barcarole, but then the producer obviously signed to him to go closer to the horn. The aria from Balfe’s The Bohemian Girl is another old favourite and offers superb singing. Stage music is also offered in two songs from Victor Herbert’s operetta Eileen. The operetta was presented in 1917 and the recording was made 29 March that year, so this has to be a premiere recording. The value of it is further enhanced by the fact that the composer himself conducts the orchestra. Like McCormack Victor Herbert was also Irish and the operetta has an Irish theme, so this music is close to the hearts of them both. There is also affection in McCormack’s voice.
The rest of the space on this disc is approximately evenly divided between once popular songs and ballads by today obscure composers – I spent considerable time trying to find first names and birth and death years for them – and the latter half of the disc, recorded after the US entered the war in 1917, is occupied by songs related to the war. Of the former When Irish eyes are smiling is sung with special affection but everything is honest and serious and without undue sentimentality. 
Let me make two corrections to the information in the track-list:

1. The Star Spangled Banner, the American national anthem is ascribed to Key, but Francis Scott Key was the poet who wrote the text in 1814. Originally his poem was entitled The Defence of Fort McHenry. It was later adapted to already existing music, the English drinking song, The Anacreontic Song, written around 1780 by composer, organist and musicologist John Stafford Smith. The Star Spangled Banner became the official national anthem on 3 March 1931 but had of course been a patriotic symbol for many decades before that. As a curiosity could be mentioned that for some time the melody was also Luxemburg’s national anthem.

2. The duet Crucifix, sung in two different recordings with his regular gramophone partner Reinald Werrenrath, is ascribed to Fauré, but it was in fact composed by Jean-Baptiste Faure, without an accent and pronounced [fohr]. He was one of the foremost French baritones of his day, sang at the Opéra in Paris 1861–76, where he created several important roles, among them Hoël in Dinorah, Nelusco in L’Africaine, Posa in Don Carlos and the title role in Thomas’s Hamlet. He appeared regularly in London 1860 – 77. He was also professor of song at the Paris Conservatory and composed songs and duets. Crucifix is his best known composition and it was only a few years ago that two friends of mine sang it at a concert with our little chamber choir. The second version (tr. 20) is far superior to the first (tr. 11), which was never published on 78rpm.
As with the earlier issues I don’t think I will return very often to the popular songs but if I am in the mood for something unassuming I know that I can hardly find such songs better performed than here. The transfers by Ward Marston are as usual superb.
Göran Forsling
Naxos Historical review pages


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