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Italian Popular Songs: Vol. 1
Sung by: Jussi Björling, Tito Schipa, Beniamino Gigli, Joseph Schmidt and others
No venues, orchestras or conductors indicated
Record 1926-1953 in USA. Italy, Germany, Stockholm and England.
NAXOS HISTORICAL. 8.110768 [78.17]

Francesco Paolo TOSTI (1846-1916)
‘A vucchela’ (Tito Schipa)
‘L’alba separa dalla luce l’ombra’ (Jussi Björling)
‘Ideale’ (Jussi Björling)
‘Serenata’ (Beniamino Gigli)
‘L’ultima canzone’ (Beniamino Gigli)
‘Marechiare’ (Giuseppe Di Stefano)
Michele ESPOSITO (1855-1929) ‘Anema e core’ (Ferruccio Tagliavini)
Alois MELICHAR (1896-1975) ‘Anima mia’ (Beniamino Gigli)
Ernesto DE CURTIS (1875-1937)

‘Carmela’. ‘Canta pe’ me!’ (Beniamino Gigli).
‘Torna a Surriento’ (Tito Schipa)
Richard BARTHELEMY (19th/20th century) ‘Chi si nne scorda cchiù’ (Tito Schipa)
Salvatore CARDILLO (1874-1947) 'Core 'ngrato’ (Giuseppe Di Stefano)
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868) ‘La Danza (Jan Kiepura)
Luigi DENZA (1846-1922)
‘Funiculi, funicula’ (Alessandro Ziliani)
Emanuele NUTILE (1862-1932) ‘Mamma mia, che vo’ sape’’ (Beniamino Gigli)
Ernesto TAGLIAFERRI (1889-1937) ‘Mandulinata a Napoli’ (Joseph Schmidt)
Ruggero LEONCAVALLO (1857-1919) ‘Mattinata’ (Aureliano Pertile)
GASTALDON ‘Musica probita’ (Mario del Monaco)
Eduardo Di CAPUA (1865-1917) ‘O sole mio’ (Jussi Björling)
Luigi DENZA (1846-1922) ‘Occhi di fata’ (Beniamino Gigli)
Teodoro COTTRAU (1827-1879) ‘Santa Lucia’ (Joseph Schmidt)
Nicola VALENTE (1853-1939) ‘Torna’ (Tito Schipa)
TRADITIONAL Arr. Vergine. ‘Vieni sul mar’ (Tito Schipa)


Every tenor since Caruso, and particularly every Italian tenor, has included what are popularly known as ‘Neapolitan Songs’ in his repertoire. Many set down their interpretations onto shellac, vinyl, or more recently, the silver disc. These ‘canzone populare’ replaced the ‘aria antiche’ of the 17th and 18th centuries. For a period ran these alongside songs by the great Italian opera composers, Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini and, later, Verdi; all composed popular songs. Something of this evolution is covered in Peter Dempsey’s brief but informed accompanying essay.

Tenors and ‘Italian Popular Songs’ go hand in hand. As the recordings here date from early electric days to the dawn of the LP, this precludes inclusion of any of Caruso’s many recordings from this genre. These however appear in Ward Marston’s Caruso series for Naxos reviewed elsewhere on this site. This issue mainly focuses on tenors active during the inter-World War years. The honeyed tones of Gigli and breath control of Schipa move us naturally to the non-Italian Björling. Björling was their equal and natural successor in terms of vocal beauty and capacity for expressing emotions by nuance, colour, legato and weight.

Not all the Italians were in the Gigli class. Di Stefano in 1953 (tr. 8) is crude by comparison whilst Del Monaco is far too baritonal and throaty in a similarly dated song (tr. 16). Of the non-Italians featured Jan Kiepura, with the voice produced forward in the mouth, is not appealing in timbre (tr.9) whereas the Romanian Joseph Schmidt has a pleasing tone, elegance of phrase and a good ‘mezza’ voce in the best Gigli tradition (trs. 13 and 19).

For the best of this varied disc I suggest listeners enjoy Schipa’s warm tone, fine legato, clear diction and elegant phrasing, which are matched by Gigli in particular. Of the post-Second World War singers included, Tagliavini (tr. 3) has many of those virtues, although we missed the best of him because of the war.

The recording acoustics vary quite a lot and there are some technical limitations (tr. 8). However, as you listen to these voices, put aside sound limitations and compare them with those who have recorded this repertoire in the last 20 or 30 years with the benefit of modern technology. Do you find their equal? I do not, so enjoy the excellent singing skills that characterise and illuminate so much of this disc.

Robert J Farr

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