Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Nellie Melba. The Paris and London recordings 1908-1913
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)

La Bohème – On m’appelle Mimi
Tosca – Vissi d’arte
Henry BURLEIGH (1866-1949)

Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)

Don César de Bazan – Sevillana
Le Cid – pleurez mes yeux
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)

Lohengrin – Elsa’s Dream
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)

Faust – Final trio
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)

Rigoletto – Quartet
Henry Rowley BISHOP (1786-1855)

Bid me discourse
Landon RONALD (1873-1938)

Sounds of earth
Ambroise THOMAS (1811-1896)

Hamlet – recording tests; excerpts from the Mad Scene
Georges-Adolphe HÜE (1858-1948)

Soir païen
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)

O for the wings of a dove
George HENSCHEL (1850-1934)

Antonio LOTTI (1667-1740)

Pur dicesti
Henri DUPARC (1848-1933)

Chanson triste
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Il re pastore; L’Amerò, sarò costante
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) – Charles GOUNOD

Ave Maria
Ernest CHAUSSON (1855-1899)

Poème de l’amour est de la mer; Le temps des Lilas
Nellie Melba (soprano) with the New Symphony Orchestra conducted by Landon Ronald and pinao accompaniments by Landon Ronald, Gabriel Lapierre; organ accompaniment by Stanley Roper, violin by Jan Kubelik. Recorded 1908-13
NAXOS 8.110743 [76.16]


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The latest volume in Naxos’s Melba series starts with the relatively unsuccessful Paris session of May 1908 during which only one side was successfully completed. It includes some famous sides with Edna Thornton, Sammarco and McCormack – from May 1910 – as well as the more peripheral distance test disc that has survived from the same day’s recording. A number of things here were never issued at the time and existed in test copies held by collectors (though the second take of the Faust trio was to appear in the 1930s). The bulk of the discs therefore date from three days of recording in London – 11th, 12th and 19th May 1910 – with the remainder, bar that single Parisian survivor emerging after her three-year break from HMV in May 1913.

Ease and fluency of voice production and subtle colouration were of course attributes she possessed in abundance. In repertoire both major and more homespun she was equally adept though the now near century long objections to her coolness of engagement have lasting validity. There are lighter moments here – Bishop and Landon Ronald – and a rare example of her Wagner (Elsa’s Dream) and then there are works with which she was more intimately associated. Having settled into a routine of recording there are far fewer of the squally moments that could disfigure her earliest discs. Concerning her occasional flatness of pitch at the top, which is audible from time to time, it should be borne in mind that her contemporaries invariably referred to her excellent intonation though in this respect at least the recordings are rather less forgiving.

Whatever the Parisian problems may have been her Mimi is extremely cool and Vissi d’arte has a crystalline brilliance that admits little warmth. She shows her big technique – florid and full of trills – in Massenet’s Sevillana but there’s rather more substance and admirable control of line on display in the remake of Vissi d’arte the following day – presumably the original was considered lacking but the remake is no more expressively eloquent (indeed the air of calculation is palpable). I’ve always had a soft spot for the Faust trio – unpublished at the time - even if the balance does McCormack no favours (maybe a contributing factor to its being withheld). With the formidable Edna Thornton’s chesty contralto on board Melba, McCormack and Sammarco essay the quartet from Rigoletto with considerable personality, though maybe an incongruous sense of ensemble – to put it mildly. Bishop’s Bid me discourse was a Piatti favourite but though Melba arouses admiration for the duration of some held notes this is all rather too staid and she certainly engages in some whimsically Anglophone rolling of the "r" in Landon Ronald’s wispy little Sounds of Earth, not one of his more imperishable masterpieces. Henschel’s Spring is a winsome little song susceptible to a little yielding pliancy but Melba is strangely unmoving with it and we are similarly unmoved. It’s interesting to hear her in an aria antica – Lotti’s famous Pur dicesti – and her diminuendi are full of acumen, her trills immaculate – in the context of the day – and her tone full of freedom even though the tempo is characteristically slow. The Mozart with Jan Kubelik was recorded at a low level and here I’m afraid Melba and the Bohemian violinist prove a sympathetically neutral pairing, her lack of emotive depth mirrored by his tonal deficiencies. You’ll seldom hear such seraphically self-absorbed coldness. Melba must have been one of the pioneer Chausson exponents on disc and it’s good that Naxos’s third volume ends with Le temps des lilas – in which both singer and especially pianist Gabriel Lapierre distinguish themselves.

By my reckoning there is one volume left in this series. The transfers are extremely fine – even the Mozart has been rendered listenable – and at this price a recommendation seems almost superfluous.

Jonathan Woolf

Gerard Hoffnung CDs

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