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Enrico CARUSO - The Digital Comeback
Original recordings of Caruso 1904-1920 in Victor Studios New York and Camden New Jersey. Milan recording (CD 3 tr. 1) November 30th 1902
Modern orchestral recordings, May 1999 (CD 1), January 2001 (CD 2), and April 2002 (CD 3). All in Vienna with Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra/Gottfried Rabl
Computer adaptation and voice separation by Peter Kindl (CDs 1 and 2) and Robert Pavlecka (CD 3)
BMG-RCA RED SEAL 82876 64165 2 [3 CDs: 65.53 + 60.19 + 57.23]

CD 1
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901) Rigoletto,
La donna e mobile (16.03.1908, New York) Aida, Se quel guerrier io fossi .. Celeste Aida (27.12.1911, New York) Macbeth, O figli, O figli miei .. Ah, la paterna mano (23.02.1916, Camden) Il Trovatore, Ah, si ben mio (16.03.1908, Camden) Il Trovatore, Di quella pira (11.02.1906, New York) Un Ballo in Maschera, Forse la soglia attinse .. Ma se m'e forza perderti (27.12.1911, Camden)
Jacques HALÉVY (1799-1862) La Juive, Rachel, quand du Seigneur (14.09.1920, Camden)
Giacomo MEYERBEER (1791-1864) L’Africaine, Mi batte il cor.. O paradiso! (20.02.1907, New York)
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912) Manon, Je suis seul.. Ah, fuyez, douce image (27.12.1911, Camden) Le Cid, Ah! Tout est bien fini! .. O Souverain, O juge, O Père! (05.02.1916, Camden)
Friedrich von FLOTOW (1812-1883) Martha, M' appari tutt' amor (11.02.1906, New York)
Amilcare PONCHIELLI (1834-1886) La Gioconda, Cielo e mar (14.03.1910, New York)
Ruggiero LEONCAVALLO (1857-1919) I Pagliacci, Recitar! .. Vesti la giubba (17.03.1907, New York)
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924) Tosca, Recondita armonia (06.11.1909, Camden)
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868) Petite Messe Solennelle, Domine Deus (16.09.1920, Camden) La danza (Tarantella neapolitana) (13.02.1912, New York)
COMPARISON TRACK- original version I Pagliacci, Recitar!... Vesti la giubba (17.03.1907 New York)
Fenesta che lucive (10.04.1913) Vieni sul mar (08.09.1919) Santa Lucia (20.03.1916)
Eduardo Di CAPUA (1865-1917) O sole mio (05.02.1916)
Ernesto DE CURTIS (1875-1937) Tu ca nun chiagne (08.09.1919) Senza nisciuno (11.09.1919)
Gaetano Enrico PENNINO Pecche (07.01.1915)
Francesco Paolo TOSTI (1846-1916) L'Alba separa dalla luce I'ombra (15.04.1917) Ideale (30.12.1906) Luna d'estate (05.02.1916) A Vucchella (08.09.1919)
Emanuele NUTILE (1862-1932) Mamma mia che vo' sape (06.11.1909)
Stanislao GASTALDON (1861-1939) Musica proibita (15.04.1917)
Salvatore CARDILLO (1874-1947) Core 'ngrato (19.11.1911)
Stefano DONAUDY Vaghissima sembianza (15.09.1920)
De CRESCENZO Tarantella sincera (19.01.1912)
Teodoro COTTRAU (1827-1879) Addio a Napoli (09.09.1919)
Umberto GIORDANO (1867-1948) Fedora
, Amor ti vieta (30.11.1902, Milan) The original recording is accompanied by the composer on the piano Andrea Chenier, Un di all'azzurro spazio (17.03.1907, New York)
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848) L'elisir d'amore, Una furtiva lagrima (01.02.1904, New York)
Ruggiero LEONCAVALLO (1857-1919) I Pagliacci, No! Pagliaccio non son (28.12.1910, Camden)
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901) Otello, Ora per sempre addio (28.12.1910, Camden) La Forza del Destino, O tu che in seno agl'angeli (6.11.1909, Camden) Rigoletto, Questa e quella (16.02.1908, Camden) Rigoletto, Ella mi fu rapita (24.02.1913, New York)
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893) Faust, Salut, demeure chaste et pure (11.02.1906, New York)
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924) Tosca, Recondita armonia (1.02.1904, New York) Tosca, E lucevan le stelle (1.02.1904, New York) La Boheme, Che gelida manina (11.02.1906, New York) Manon Lescaut, Donna non vidi mai (24.02.1913, New York)
Georges BIZET (1838-1875) Carmen, La fleur que tu m'avais jetée (7.11.1909, Camden)
Arrigo BOITO (1842-1918) Mefistofele, Dai campi, dai prati (12.11.1902, Milan)
Ruggiero LEONCAVALLO (1857-1919) Mattinata (8.04.1904, Milan) (The original recording is accompanied by the composer on the piano) 

There comes a time in a reviewer’s week when the listening has to stop and the serious business of writing start. I say serious writing to differentiate the review itself from the notes made in the listening phase. In the case of these three discs I am in some danger of having to utilise a computer programme to sort out the mass of often-contradictory notes. There is also the matter of fearing the burn-out of the transport of my recently purchased CD player if I do any more quick comparisons between tracks on this ‘Digital Comeback’ issue with those on RCA’s recently issued 12 CD set titled ‘The Complete Caruso Collection’ and samples of the Naxos volumes of Caruso’s recorded legacy. Such is the challenge presented by this collection of three previously issued single CDs which has involved the ‘lifting’ of Caruso’s voice from 78rpm discs and the addition of a modern orchestral backing to his singing; technological manipulation of a high order. 

In my review of RCA’s ‘The Complete Caruso Collection’ (Link) I was at pains to point out some of the difficulties of early recording procedures, particularly in respect of the speed at which the original wax was cut and which could vary considerably. If a shellac disc recorded at 72 or 82 rpm was then played at the standard 78 rpm the results would not truly reflect the singer’s voice or the orchestral sound. I implied that on RCA’s ‘Complete Collection’, unlike on the Naxos series, no effort had been made to correct any such variation. Such variations of cutter speed were most pronounced on the earliest recordings. As well as listening, I also compared timings here with those from the ‘Complete Caruso Collection’ and the Naxos. Not surprisingly there are differences with this digital remake being nearer to the Naxos. This indicates that in the process of preparing for the addition of a modern orchestra, efforts were made by the engineers regarding the voice pitch of the source issues used. In some of the original recordings the tempi were governed by the restriction of the length of a 78 rpm side. There is no such restriction here, and I particularly welcome the addition of full orchestral introductions to some arias such as in Rachel, quand du Seigneur from ‘La Juive’ (CD 1 tr. 7) recorded in 1920, where the introduction has another minute of music. The same applies, in a smaller way, in the Aida aria (CD 1 tr. 2) and the Ballo in Maschera extract (CD 1 tr. 6) and elsewhere. Incidentally the venue of the Aida aria is shown as New York when the sessions of December 27th 1911 were at Camden.  

The next question I must address is how the total package of modern orchestra and sound fits with the often limited and more constricted sound and ambience of the voice. The orchestra is well recorded and conducted with flair by Gottfried Rabl. The conductor has adapted his tempi to suit the original, even in the inordinately slow Una furtiva lagrima originally accompanied by piano (CD 3 tr. 2). Here Caruso’s heady half tones and Italianate squilla are heard to good effect. As the voice enters the orchestra takes a more recessed seat allowing the voice to be heard to best advantage. How do the two fit? It depends on the quality of the original source record and the apparatus used for listening. Played on a personal stereo, with its restricted frequency range, all seems relatively smooth and one barely notices the difference in recorded ambience. With good headphones the differences become more apparent. Listening via my large reference speakers the differences are considerably more apparent. But so much seems to depend on the quality of the original from which the voice has been taken. At the very beginning of the vocal entry to La donna e mobile (CD 1 tr. 1), recorded in 1908, the orchestral introduction blends easily into Caruso’s singing. Yes the singing is slightly boxed, but then suddenly in the second verse the voice becomes more occluded. In both verses there is some distortion on the high note whilst there is none on the concluding note of Di quella pira (CD 1 tr. 5) recorded two years earlier. This of course brings me back to the quality of the source pressings used. In my review of the Complete Collection I expressed doubts about the pressings used by RCA who, after all, must own the originals. In this collection, an unedited original of the famous tenor aria Recitar! .. Vesti la giubba from Pagliacci (CD 1 tr 17) is provided for comparison with the digital version (CD 1 tr. 13). What is clear from listening is that whatever source pressing was used here, it is different from that used in Vol. 3 of the Complete Collection. Whatever source is used it is certainly true that the quality of the later recordings, say post-1912, is distinctly better than those of the earlier period. I noted in my reviews of the later volumes of the Naxos issues as well as those on the Complete Collection, with the overall sound and balance between voice and orchestra being significantly better. It is therefore disappointing to find that on some of the 1919 recordings of Italian Songs on CD 2 the sound varies so much. Vieni sul mar (tr. 2) of 1919 is distinctly harsh in the treble whilst O sole mio (tr. 2) of 1916 and Pecche (tr. 5) of 1915 are much easier on the ear. There are a number of occasions where treble tizz, for want of a better word, particularly on high notes and forte passages intrudes on enjoyment. 

What these recordings do enable the listener to hear, perhaps more clearly than before, because of both the clarity and proximity of the tracks, is the changes in the timbre of Caruso’s voice over time and particularly after the operation for the removal of nodules on his vocal chords in 1908. The heroic tenor voice rendering of Mi batte il cor.. O paradiso! recorded in 1907 (CD 1 tr. 8) becomes the more baritonal tenor voice of Recondita armonia of 1909 (CD 1 tr. 10). Better examples are to be found in the two arias from Pagliacci, Vesti la giubba (CD 1 tr. 13) recorded in 1907 and No! Pagliacci non son (CD 3 tr. 3) recorded in 1910. The characterisation is the same, the beauty of tone and depth of expression likewise, but the timbre has become more mahogany than teak. That deepening of the tone reached its apotheosis on record in the 1920 recording from La Juive included here (CD 1 tr. 7) and the aria from Samson and Dalila recorded in 1919. Two particularly interesting tracks not mentioned previously are contained on the third CD engineered by Robert Pavlecka. The first is of Giordano’s Fedora (CD 3 tr. 1). The composer accompanied the original recording, made by Fred Gaisberg in Caruso’s hotel in November 1902, on the piano. It is the only example of the original Milan recordings included here. This digital version is with orchestra. The quality of the source used in Vol. 1 of the Complete Caruso was very poor indeed with very noisy surfaces. Here the voice comes over clearly, albeit with added bloom, a quality more prevalent on CD 3 than the other two discs. But this is the voice that Fred Gaisberg heard over 100 years ago and which convinced him that Caruso and the gramophone were made for each other. That original recording, and this issue, prove Gaisberg to have been a very far-sighted man indeed. This issue allows for a far greater enjoyment of Caruso’s formidable voice than many other previous issues from his parent company. On that basis I view the enterprise as a success. My only regret is that the collection does not include any example of Caruso together with colleagues in say one of the recordings he made of the Lucia sextet or Rigoletto quartet. Maybe that omission is for technical reasons but Caruso was a renowned team player and both sparked colleagues and was in turn lifted to greater vocal heights by them. 

Robert J Farr 




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