Neri had a shockingly
truncated recording career. Born in
1909 he made his debut in Rome in 1935
but his career really took off after
the War when he visited La Scala and
Covent Garden and theatres further afield.
His first discs were made in 1951 but
he died a scant seven years later, felled
by a heart attack as he was leaving
for a visit to London. He did record
Aida under Vittorio Gui and Mefistofele
but his major contribution was probably
La Gioconda with Callas under Antonino
Votto in 1952.
Known mainly as a Verdian
he did also sing Wagner but Preiser’s
compilation disc is exclusively an Italian
one recorded by Cetra and Urania between
1951 and 1953. The sides show his many
gifts: a big, burnished voice, sonorous
and dramatic. His Rossini is certainly
leonine but perhaps could do with a
dose of wit and a better sense of projection.
His Don Carlo however is effulgent and
strong and there are constant reminders
of his stature, notwithstanding the
depth of competition he faced at the
time - Christoff, Siepi and Pasero amongst
a number of leading basses. For all
that there are hints here as to why,
despite his early death, he never climbed
higher in the international tree. He
can be rather one dimensional on disc
(La Gioconda never really takes off
and sounds rather static) and one wonders,
as in the extracts from Mefistofele,
whether that tangible electricity he
clearly brought to his stage roles ever
fully communicated on disc.
This selection certainly
makes a good case for his place in the
hierarchy of mid-century Italian basses.
The Cetras sound full bodied and the
transfers are unobtrusively good.