reviewed three previous volumes in this series I have more
or less run out of superlatives for this fantastic singer
and a sneaky way of getting round this problem is to refer
readers to the earlier reviews: Volume
. Those who feel reluctant to spend an evening with
those perhaps overlong appreciations may be satisfied with
what I wrote as a kind of summary about Volume 6: ‘even
though there may be songs one doesn’t exactly long to hear
again for the musical quality there are still things to
admire from the point of view of pure singing: the perfect
line, the excellent diction or the sensitive turn of a
phrase.’ To this should be added: ‘the sheer beauty of
his voice’. Few singers in recorded history have possessed
cleaner voices, more natural and – a contradiction of terms – artlessly
artful. In that respect his closest relative is possibly
the eminent Danish tenor Aksel Schiøtz. They hardly ever
forced the tone beyond their natural limits and they both
sounded like the boy next door who happened to like singing
a tune in the shower – but so extremely thought through
and with such feeling.
winning a Gold Medal for his singing in 1903 – he was only
nineteen then - John McCormack in due time went to Italy
for further training in Milan under the renowned maestro
Vincenzo Sabatini. After less than a year he was judged
ready for his debut in opera and in January 1906 he entered
the stage at the Teatro Chiabrera in Savona, on the Gulf
of Genoa, where he sang the title role in Mascagni’s L’amico
. From 1907 until the outbreak of WW1 he sang
at Covent Garden. Eventually he realized that his acting
abilities were rather limited and quit opera altogether
to concentrate on a career as a concert singer, where he
gained fame and became the highest paid artist in the world.
He was also a prolific recording artist and the sales of
his records challenged and sometimes even surpassed Caruso’s.
He recorded quite a lot of opera arias and ensembles but
gradually the popular songs and sentimental ballads came
to dominate. Even on this volume, however, there are a
few operatic excerpts, the most exceptional being the Prize
Song from Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.
tenor excelling in roles like Gérald in Lakmé
Duke in Rigoletto
in La sonnambula,
in Lucia di Lammermoor
and Faust in Boito’s Mefistofele
were his roles at Covent Garden – is hardly likely to essay
the role of Walther von Stolzing, not even isolated arias.
But McCormack’s dream had long been to sing Wagner and
in 1916, when he was at the height of his powers, he felt
ready for it. A year earlier he had recorded the Prize
Song with Fritz Kreisler but that recording was never published.
Here, with The Victor Orchestra backing him, he amply demonstrates
that a lyrical voice can bring out the poetry of the aria
that heavier voices can kill. He sings with his customary
elegance and control and never tries to press on for more
volume. The result is captivating. This recording should
be a model for aspiring Wagnerian tenors, just as much
as his justly famous Il mio tesoro
from Don Giovanni
Volume 6) has long been for Mozart tenors. It should be
mentioned that another famous lyric tenor, Richard Tauber,
also recorded Stolzing’s arias in 1927 with likewise excellent
are a couple of other opera excerpts as well. Joseph’s Champs
from Méhul’s Joseph en Egypte
I believe, the only survivor from this once popular 1807
score. Modern recordings are scarce even of this aria.
The only recording I could find in my own collection was
Leopold Simoneau’s, and it is more than fifty years old.
In an old copy of Gramophone’s
catalogue a disc
with Laurence Dale from 1989 was listed – but that’s all
I have been able to find. Sung in French by McCormack his
reading stands up even against Simoneau’s, most of whose
recordings tend to be models, as far as I am concerned.
from Les contes d’Hoffmann
an adaptation of the soprano-mezzo duet, but it is beautiful.
With fine obbligato playing by Fritz Kreisler this is a
collector’s item as is Raff’s Serenade
on the same day. There McCormack sounds very distant, and
so he does at the beginning of the Barcarole
then the producer obviously signed to him to go closer
to the horn. The aria from Balfe’s The Bohemian Girl
another old favourite and offers superb singing. Stage
music is also offered in two songs from Victor Herbert’s
The operetta was presented in 1917
and the recording was made 29 March that year, so this
has to be a premiere recording. The value of it is further
enhanced by the fact that the composer himself conducts
the orchestra. Like McCormack Victor Herbert was also Irish
and the operetta has an Irish theme, so this music is close
to the hearts of them both. There is also affection in
rest of the space on this disc is approximately evenly
divided between once popular songs and ballads by today
obscure composers – I spent considerable time trying to
find first names and birth and death years for them – and
the latter half of the disc, recorded after the US entered
the war in 1917, is occupied by songs related to the war.
Of the former When Irish eyes are smiling
with special affection but everything is honest and serious
and without undue sentimentality.
me make two corrections to the information in the track-list:
Star Spangled Banner,
the American national
anthem is ascribed to Key, but Francis Scott Key was
the poet who wrote the text in 1814. Originally
his poem was entitled The Defence of Fort McHenry.
was later adapted to already existing music, the English
drinking song, The Anacreontic Song
, written around
1780 by composer, organist and musicologist John Stafford
Smith. The Star Spangled Banner
became the official
national anthem on 3 March 1931 but had of course been
a patriotic symbol for many decades before that. As a
curiosity could be mentioned that for some time the melody
was also Luxemburg’s national anthem.
, sung in two different recordings
with his regular gramophone partner Reinald Werrenrath,
is ascribed to Fauré, but it was in fact composed by Jean-Baptiste
Faure, without an accent and pronounced [fohr]. He was
one of the foremost French baritones of his day, sang at
the Opéra in Paris 1861–76, where he created several important
roles, among them Hoël in Dinorah
, Nelusco in L’Africaine
Posa in Don Carlos
and the title role in Thomas’s Hamlet
He appeared regularly in London 1860 – 77. He was also
professor of song at the Paris Conservatory and composed
songs and duets. Crucifix
is his best known composition
and it was only a few years ago that two friends of mine
sang it at a concert with our little chamber choir. The
second version (tr. 20) is far superior to the first (tr.
11), which was never published on 78rpm.
with the earlier issues I don’t think I will return
very often to the popular songs but if I am in the mood
for something unassuming
I know that I can hardly find such songs better performed
than here. The transfers by Ward Marston are as usual superb.
Naxos Historical review pages