> Rosa Ponselle sings Verdi [CMG]: Classical CD Reviews- Jun2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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The 1918-1928 Recordings

Ernani: Ernani Involami (Victor)
I Vespri Siciliani: Merce, dilette amiche (Columbia)
Il Trovatore: Tacea la notte (Columbia)
D'Amor sull'ali rosee (Columbia)
Miserere (Victor) (with Giovanni Martinelli)
Mira d'acerbe lagrime (Columbia) (with Riccardo Stracciari)
La Forza del Destino:
La Vergine degli angeli (Victor) (with Ezio Pinza)
Pace, pace (Victor)
Io muoio....Non imprecare (Victor) (with Martinelli and Pinza)
Aida: Ritorna vincitor (Columbia)
O patria mia (Columbia)
Pur ti reveggo (Victor) (with Martinelli)
La fatal pietra (with Martinelli)
Otello: Piangea cantando (Victor)
Ave Maria (Victor)
transfer by Ward Marston
NAXOS 8.110728 [77:49]


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The duplication continues. Pearl have given us the Ponselle Columbias, Romophone the Victors. Ward Marston brought out the 1930s radio broadcasts in two volumes on his own label. And we've had the several volumes on (now defunct) Nimbus. Not to mention the RCA Victor Vocal Series disc.

So what are the enticements here?

Well, there are several. The transfers are by Ward Marston, a guarantee that they will be state of the art. There is almost 78 minutes of music on the disc (though Naxos modestly claim a mere 76:50 on the box). One example of every Verdi title Ponselle recorded has been included and so the indolent, wishing to survey the style of one of the great Verdians of the last century, need only push a button.

Then there is the singing. The voice itself, transcending every limitation imposed by the old recording process that Marston's wizardry cannot eliminate, seduces with its timbre, compels submission with its sovereign technique (the even runs, the child's-play trills, the silky-spun high notes, silvery and succulent at the same time, the rich, firm mezzo-like low notes, the magisterial phrasing - compromised occasionally by the speeds imposed by the "78" sides). And of course the diva keeps the most excellent company: no more admired (and rightly) Verdians than Martinelli, Pinza, and Stracciari.

Reservations? Some of the Columbias appear to have been reproduced a shade flat - a conscious decision founded on assumptions regarding the normative tuning in the Columbia studios of those days? Mr Marston, in his short technical note, does not say. There have always been disagreements about the proper speeds, especially for the Columbias. Would Ponselle, an inveterate transposer, have sung all her arias in the original key - even the Trovatore "D'Amor sull'ali rosee" in which she touches the (optional) high D flat? To these ears the Vespri Bolero sounds more natural a semitone below score pitch. About some of the others (including that Trovatore item) I'm not so sure.

There is some minimal, momentary distortion from time to time, the kind inherent in these old records and not the kind derived from faulty reproduction or styli of inappropriate dimensions.

Veteran collectors will probably wonder if they need to add yet another Ponselle disc to their well-stocked shelves. Younger and first-time listeners have a treat of incomparable value in store for a fiver.

Though multiple selections from a single opera are grouped in the order they occur in the score, the listing on the box and the insert will make you think that the first two Forza excerpts are in incorrect order. In fact the notes are wrong; the CD follows the score.

Calvin M. Goodwin

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