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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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Beniamino Gigli (tenor) (1890-1975).
The Gigli Edition Volume 1. The Milan Recordings 1918-19
Arrigo BOITO (1842-1918)

Mefistofele – Dai campi, dai prati
Mefistofele – Se tu mi doni un’ora di riposo
Carlo Scattola (bass)
Mefistofele – Rivogli a me lo sguardo
Gemma Bosini (soprano)
Mefistofele – Giunto sul passo estremo
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)

Tosca - Recondita armonia
Tosca – E lucevan le stele
La Bohème – O soave fanciulla
Maria Zamboni (soprano)
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)

La favorita – Addio, fuggir mi lascia!
Elvira Casazza (mezzo soprano)
La favorita – Spirto gentil
Amilcare PONCHIELLI (1834-1886)

La Gioconda – Deh, non tremar
Elvira Casazza (mezzo soprano)
La Gioconda – Cielo e mar
La Gioconda – Enzo Grimaldo
Dario Zani (baritone)

O surdato ‘nnamurato
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945)

Iris – Apri la tua finestra
Cavalleria rusticana – Mamma, quell vino è generoso
Maria Zamboni (soprano)
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)

Faust - Salve, dimora casta e pura (in Italian)
Faust – Tardi si fa! Addio! (in Italian)
Maria Zamboni (soprano)
Faust – Sempre amar
Maria Zamboni (soprano)
Orchestras conducted by Carlo Sabajno
Recorded 1918-19
NAXOS 8.110262 [67.34]


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Beniamino Gigli (tenor) (1890-1975)
The Gigli Edition Volume 2; The Milan Recordings 1919, Camden and New York Recordings 1921-22
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945)

L’Amico Fritz – Suzel buon dì
Nerina Baldisseri (soprano)
L’Amico Fritz – Tutto tace
Nerina Baldisseri (soprano)
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)

The Pearl Fishers – Au fond du temple saint (sung in Italian)
Adolfo Pacini (baritone)
Umberto GIORDANO (1867-1948)

Fedora – Amor ti vieta
Fedora – Vedi, io piango
Andrea Chénier – Un di all’azzurro spazio
Andrea Chénier – Come un bel dì di maggio
Arrigo BOITO (1842-1918)

Mefistofele – Dai campi, dai prati
Giunto sul passo estremo
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)

Tosca – Recondita armonia
Tosca – E lucevan le stele
Tosca – O dolci mani
Amilcare PONCHIELLI (1834-1886)

La Gioconda – Cielo e mar!
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)

La favorita – Spirto gentil
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)

Faust – Salve, dimora casta e pura
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945)

Iris – Apri la tua finestra
Ernesto DE CURTIS (1875-1937)

Tu sola
E A MARIO (1884 - ?)

Santa Lucia luntana
Riccardo DRIGO (1846-1930)

I millioni d’Arlecchino – Notturno d’amore
Edouard LALO (1823-1892)

Le Roi d’Ys – Vainement, ma bien aimée
Ruggiero LEONCAVALLO (1858-1919)

Pagliacci – Vesti la giubba
Enrico TOSELLI (1883-1926)

With singing partners as noted above and anonymous orchestras conducted by Carlo Sabajno, Josef Pasternack and Nathaniel Shilkret
Recorded 1919-22
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110263 [73.14]


Romophone embarked on an extensive Gigli series beginning in 1996 with the 1921-23 Victors. Further extensive reissues followed in 1998, covering the early discs under the rubric Gigli – the Complete HMV Recordings 1918-32. Collectors should know that since Romophone’s recent demise this new series from Naxos has embarked chronologically from the beginning, utilising essentially the same transfers, those of Mark Obert-Thorn. If you have the relevant Romophones there is no need to invest in this set, even though Obert-Thorn has taken the opportunity to tidy up still further his transfers. There are a couple of cases in volume 2 of the series – also reviewed by me – where he’s re-transferred two tracks in their entirety.

These are not complete operatic sets of course but the arias and extracts show Gigli at his most verdant, natural and effortless. The disfiguring mannerisms that were later to affect his performances are not so audible here though they are certainly present in embryonic form. Gigli was twenty-eight when he first recorded in a year in which he’d just been engaged by Toscanini at La Scala, the beginning of a recording career that was to last until his retirement in 1955. The virtues of his youthful singing are manifold; the top well and evenly produced in the Boito, the masculine but not over parted Recondita armonia, the sumptuous legato and portamento of the October 1918 E Lucevan le stelle with barking held in check even though the actual effect is still too hammy with its Vesuvian sobs engulfing the grooves – and us. Admirable is the sheer elegance of his Rivogli a me from Mefistofele which, though burnished with some weeping and a squally soprano, Gemma Bosini, who’s no tonal match for him, is attractive. Much better is mezzo Elvira Casazza in Addio, fuggir mi lascia where she proves as strong as he is ardent and lyrical.

In the Ponchielli one can admire the way Gigli hardens with declamatory force his bridling tone or how, with ease and generosity, he essays his favourite Neapolitan songs. If the verismo of Mascagni’s Lodoletta is a mite overdone – allied to which the orchestra is very swoony, undernourished and sounds kitted out with reinforcement tubas – it’s still an education to listen to the application of Gigli’s portamenti here. One of the peaks of the disc is Cielo e mar, which is sung with a very special tone – a sustained legato of exquisitely pleading intimacy. There will always be moments of doubt – for me his excursions into the French repertoire border on the painful – but when he is on home ground the delights are infinite. Who could resist the sotto voce he cultivates in O soave fanciulla?

So, to recommendations. If you have the Romophones this Naxos is needless duplication. If you don’t have early Gigli this is a perfect point of entry – excellent transfers of some occasionally problematic Italian sessions and equally excellent notes by Alan Blyth.

Jonathan Woolf

See also review of Volume 1 by Robert Farr


Volume 2

As I wrote in my review of the first volume in this series Naxos has taken over the reins of early Gigli material. The 1919 sides here first appeared on now defunct Romophone 82011-2 (Beniamino Gigli – the Complete HMV Recordings 1918-1932). The transfers in both cases are by Mark Obert-Thorn and have been slightly improved for this issue and he has also re-equalised. A couple of tracks have been re-transferred - the Bizet and Vedi, io piango from Giordano’s Fedora. Otherwise all is well. The voice is still fresh, beautifully produced, with stunning sotto voce and portamenti, and a legato ease unhindered by technical deficiencies.

That said we get off to a relatively poor start with Suzel buon di where he’s joined by a poor soprano and a worse band. Even though his excursions into the French repertoire were hardly models of Gallic sensitivity there is nevertheless something rather touching about the Pearl Fishers duet with Adolfo Pacini. His Recondita armonia, his second attempt following the earlier sessions, is again good but not outstanding and the similarly newly recorded New York E lucevan le stelle is once again rather over emoted. But the 1921 Camden, New York Cielo e mar! is once more magnificent – fullness across the range with an almost quasi-baritonal extension downwards, and an extreme ease of vocal production, with considerable and magnificently deployed dramatic reserves at the end.

In Spirto gentil he softens his consonants, employs a couple of distinct downward portamenti and engages in very slight ritardandi and caesuri. Here technique and tension are in perfect accord and there’s very little here for Gigli doubters who think he will succumb to histrionics at every turn. Once again his Gounod gets no better over the intervening years; as with the earlier Milan recording, on Volume 1 of Naxos’ set, this is very Italianate and very sedate. It’s good to hear the Neapolitan selections – as with nearly all the sides these are presented in strict chronological order – complete with guitar and mandolin accompaniment. As it is indeed to his truly thrilling aria from Act I of Andrea Chénier, Un di all’azzurro spazio.

If you don’t have the Romophone these transfers very much reclaim the central place in the young Gigli’s discography. Surface noise is much less of a problem in the well-engineered American Victors – and the notes are by Alan Blyth and William Ashbrook.

Jonathan Woolf


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