This is a snapshot of the art of American mezzo Nan Merriman.
The earliest items are the 1943 NBC/Toscanini excerpts from Don
Carlo and Rigoletto and the most recent is the long example from
Otello, recorded in London in 1957. In between we have a variety
of items, well selected to showcase her strengths. Given, though,
the nature of these selections it’s an inherently unbalanced disc
with the two long, quarter of an hour extracts from Otello and
Rigoletto, sitting among the much slimmer examples of her art.
As long as one appreciates the fact one can enjoy the arias that
much the better.
The Gluck Orfeo,
with which the disc starts, is not the famous Toscanini performance
where Merriman is, if anything too eager to please, too warm.
Weissmann was no Toscanini but he coaxes from her arguably a
better performance of Che farò. Her Italian repertoire
was a great strength as the sole Donizetti shows – it’s strongly
characterised and convincingly done. Rather more in fact than
her Otello with colleagues Elizabeth Fretwell and Alexander
Young in this HMV recording conducted by Walter Süsskind. Young
is recorded spatially and it sounds rather contrived but Merriman
evinces attractive tonal warmth, singing with technical assurance
and some portamenti to ensure a fluid legato. One’s only criticism;
here maybe just a touch lacking in theatrical presence. The
live Don Carlo extract finds the NBC commentator talking across
the opening bars but once past that blip one sits back to enjoy
the frisson of broadcast adrenalin injected by the conductor.
It inspires Merriman to more-than-usual volatility and here
her chest voice is prominent. It’s exciting evidence of the
way she could be encouraged or cajoled by a great conductor
into giving of her best in concert.
The Rigoletto extract
was recorded at the same concert. It finds Jan Peerce in characteristically
manly if not always exceptionally subtle voice. Moscona is better
and the ensemble better still. This is another famous example
of Toscanini in concert and he proves a masterly controller
of tension, though it would have been helpful if the extract
had been internally banded.
is once more an attractive if not always penetrating impersonation
– she’s just a touch too statuesque and not quite saucy enough.
The de Falla extracts derive from the complete recording under
Stokowski on RCA Victor. It’s a pity really that we don’t have
the whole lot since not only do we have three songs as it is
but also the performance is so good, Stokowski so evocative
and the recording gives prominence to Merriman’s voice. The
last example of her art is from Bernstein’s Jeremiah
Symphony. Her singing of the Lamentation is assured and rewarding.
The transfers are
pretty reasonable, the notes concise.