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The McCormack Edition - Volume 5
Schwanengesang, D. 957: No. 4. Standchen (Softly Through the Night is Calling) [3:40]
Cavalleria Rusticana: Intermezzo, "Ave Maria" (arr. for tenor) [2:58]
Ernest R. BALL
Who Knows? [2:02]
Hermann LOHR
The Little Grey Home in the West [1:37]
Chauncey OLCOTT
Romance of Athlone: My Wild Irish Rose [3:15]
Bonnie Wee Thing [3:05]
Beautiful Isle of Somewhere [2:20]

Golden Love [3:35]
Because [2:25]
Wilton KING
Avourneen [3:13]
Mary of Argyle [2:50]
Ben Bolt [3:01]
James Carroll BARTLETT
A Dream [2:16]
Michael William BALFE
The Bohemian Girl: When other lips and other hearts [2:54]
Stephen C. FOSTER
Come Where My Love Lies Dreaming [3:16]
Funiculi, funicula [2:30]
Giuseppe VERDI
Rigoletto, Act III: Bella figlia dell'amore [3:51; La traviata, Act III: Parigi, o cara [3:24]; Aida, Act IV: O terra addio [3:49]

La boheme, Act I: O soave fanciulla [3:08]
The Lily of Killarney: The Moon hath Raised Her Lamp Above [3:23]

It's A Long Way To Tipperary [3:20]
Arthur TATE
Somewhere a Voice is Calling [2:57]
Mavis [3:26]

Francis DOREL
When My Ships Come Sailing Home [3:42]
Wilfred Ernest SANDERSON
Until [2:13]
John McCormack (tenor)
Fritz Kreisler (violin); Vincent O’Brien, (piano); Francis Lapitino (harp); Rosario Bourdon (cello); Lucrezia Bori (soprano); Lucy Isabelle Marsh (soprano); Josephine Jacoby (contralto); Harry Macdonough (tenor); Lambert Murphy (tenor); Reinald Werrenrath (baritone); William F. Hooley (bass)
rec. New York, 1914-15. ADD
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.111315 [78:10] 


John McCormack (1884-1945) is a singer well known for his light velvety tenor voice. He was born in Ireland and at the age of 18 was sent to Dublin. There he was ‘discovered’ by the choirmaster of a Dublin cathedral choir he had joined. He was encouraged to prepare and enter an Irish singing contest a year later and won its prestigious Gold award. This brought a new confidence and he went to Italy for vocal studies in Milan. The next year he appeared in Mascagni and Gounod operas with average success but an audition for La Scala was unsuccessful because his voice was not considered robust enough for the weight of Italian opera. He created a sensation at a Boosey Ballad Concert in London (1907), an appearance so successful that Walter Legge of HMV fame always believed this recital, rather than his later Covent Garden début, opened the door to a career in England. 

From what we hear, McCormack was a strong lyrical tenor with a clean edge to the voice. He is comfortable with the Verdi and Puccini arias heard here but lacks the power of a Pavarotti. With ballad singing he seems much more at home. A particular quality is the way he can hold on to a final note and let it gently die without any touch of aural instability. Such quality of breath control is amazing. 

Although he appeared in America and Europe in opera, his focus was on recitals and recordings. For this, his repertoire was wide and covered everything from operatic arias to parlour ballads. The selection on this fifth volume covers a number of operatic numbers of Verdi, Schubert and Mascagni as well as some sheet music favourites like Benedict’s The Moon hath lit her lamp, Balfe’s When other lips, D’Hardelot’s Because, Lehmann’s Bonnie Wee Thing, and Sanderson’s Until. The Irish are well represented in the Romance of Athlone (McCormack’s home area), the Lily of Killarney, and It’s a long way to Tipperary. 

In Ava Maria, the piano anticipates the voice nicely, but Kreisler’s violin accompaniment tends to flag. McCormack’s diction in Lohr’s The Little Grey Home is exemplary with consonants clear yet without exaggeration. Tracks 3 to 21 come from the same recording sessions (6-9 April 1914), averaging six songs per day. The musician/singer arrangement is noticeably altered after the second day as the orchestra is further recessed. The Aida track, O terra addio is perhaps the least successful. In Benedict’s The Moon hath raised her lamp, McCormack shines out admirably in the duet. 

There seems some anomaly in the recording of romantic arias and sweet-sounding, melodious songs at a time when the earthy ravages of the First World War had just begun. These are however American Victor recordings, far removed from the theatre of war. McCormack had settled down in America and to the dismay of Britain had taken American citizenship. During this period, the recording studio was still hampered be the need for delicate positioning of singer and orchestral elements around the bell of a large acoustical ‘trumpet’. Yet it still managed to achieve an excellent balance between orchestra and singer. The characteristic reediness and bias to top frequencies is very evident. I just wonder whether less treble on equalisation might have improved the transfers. 

Naxos has a lot of competition for this series. There are: 2 USA reissues; 10 UK Pearl/Opal/Flapper; 2 ASV Living Era; 3 Nimbus; 2 Romophone; 5 EMI; 5 Symposium; 5 Naxos; 1 Memoir; 1 Pro-Arte; 2 Outlet Music; 1 Regis; 1 Conifer; 1 K-tel; 1 Prism and 1 Evergreen CD, all dedicated to McCormack recordings (about 41 hours worth)! Many of the CDs are different transfers of the same material even though McCormack’s output of recordings is extensive.

Raymond J Walker



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