Symposium is in
two minds about this release; Vocal Rarities says the
booklet cover but Major Vocal Rarities says the jewel
case. Well, for once, the more discreet self-promotion is
the truer one. Some of these discs are very rare indeed. In
fact an index of their rarity value can be provided by the
name of the man from whose collection the vast majority derive,
the late Sir Paul Getty.
looks for rarity and condition. Both constituents are met
here. The sextet of singers represents divergent traditions,
naturally enough, and they espouse their own repertoire but
rarity and quality of condition remain constant features.
Ershov, one of
the most magnificent tenors ever to have recorded, visited
the recording studios but seldom. We are fortunate to have
this batch of 1903 Columbias in such good estate and they
bear out everything that has been said of him. Firstly he
is an intensely dramatic singer, secondly the tone is very
firmly centred and thirdly he generates a most intense and
sometimes florid excitement. If this is Ershov in the necessarily
contained world of the 1903 recording studios one can only
wonder what he must have sounded like, unleashed and leonine,
on stage. He sings Wagner and Verdi with equal command; he
also sets a standard that proves impossible to match.
This is hard on the Portuguese d’Andrade
but he has only himself to blame. His Mozart is stylistically
and technically all over the place. Amusing though it is to
hear his studio cronies cry “encore” and “bis” for a scripted
encore it’s less so when he goes through his vocal paces again.
This is odd as he was a widely admired singer but to sing
Mozart as if it were Rossini is surely a solecism too far.
When he does sing Rossini he is stretched by its demands and
the overriding impression is of an undisciplined singer surviving
on theatrical charisma and dispatching note values, rhythm
and precision to the furthermost reaches of his arsenal.
only made four sides and they’re all here. She is in a different
class from the unfortunate Portuguese; a fine, lyric soprano
with a certain dignified hauteur; not over demonstrative but
still convincing. All her sides were sung in German and all
reveal a thoroughly well trained and well disciplined voice.
Note the floated tone in the Trovatore in particular and if
she sounds rather rushed maybe it was unfamiliarity with the
recording process or the length of the sides.
The American Francis
MacLennan was a noted Hamburg Wagnerian – one of the many
successful American expatriates from before the First War.
He certainly convinces in his two Wagner sides in the best
unhistrionic and noble line of compatriot Wagnerians. In the
second extract he has the luxury of an orchestral accompaniment.
His Verdi alas is less impressive – lugubrious and in poor
The name Roxy
King sounds like a flapper but was another in the line of
fine European-trained Americans. Born in Ohio she moved to
Brazil at thirteen, to Berlin in her later teens and then
began what seems to have been a highly promising career. It
ended in 1908 when she returned to Brazil and married. She
made two batches of discs - for G & T in Berlin and for
South American Victor. Here we have the Berlin sides, all
rare. She has a fine and free top and in this generally slow
tempo quintet of recordings she displays an excellent legato
and sure sense of style. Clearly a highly impressive artist.
To finish we have
the unaccompanied Chaliapin folk songs made in Milan in 1907
and not originally meant for publication. Possibly they were
a test of his own vocal projection in the studio. Certainly
he dares some vertiginous pianissimos in the second song,
which might warrant that assumption.
notes are perceptive and helpful without swamping one in too
much detail. And the copies are, as noted, as good as one
can reasonably expect to find after a century of use. The
unfiltered transfers allow one a privileged eyrie on some
indisputably great singing.