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Enrico CARUSO, tenor (1873-1921): The Complete Recordings. Volume 12 (1919-1920)
DE CRESCENZO ‘Première caresse’
Ernesto DE CURTIS (1875-1937) ‘Senza nisciuno’
Antonio Carlos GOMES (1836-1899) Salvator Rosa, ‘Mia piccirella’
BRACCO ‘Serenata’
FUCITO ‘Scordame’
SECCHI ‘Love me or not’
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759) Serse,
‘Ombra mai fu’.
PASADAS ‘Noche feliz’
Jacques Francois HALÉVY (1799-1862) La Juive, ‘Rachel, quand du Seigneur’
GIOÈ ‘I’m’arricordo ‘e Napule’
DONAUDY ‘Vaghissima sembianza’
Giacomo MEYERBEER (1791-1864) L’Africaine, ‘Deh, ch’io ritorni’
Jean-Baptiste LULLY (1632-1687) Amadis de Gaule, ‘Bois épais’
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868) Petite Messe Solenelle, ‘Domine Deus’ ‘Crucifixus’

CARUSO ‘Liberty Forever’
EDWARDS ‘My Cousin Caruso’. Sung by Billy May
FRANCHETTI Germania, ‘Studenti, udite’ (Caruso’s recording of 11th April 1902)
Recorded in Camden, New Jersey, in September 1919, January, and September 1920. Accompanied by the ‘Victor Orchestra’/Josef Pasternack except tr.18 played by the ‘Victor military band’


So the Naxos Caruso Edition has reached Caruso’s recordings of 1919-20, rounding the disc off with an appendix of Caruso-related tracks and a final glance back to the beginning, a 1902 ‘Studenti, udite’, Caruso’s first recording for the Gramophone Company Ltd. In the latter’s case, the surface noise is made all the more obvious because of the cleaner sides that precede it. Yet it makes sense to include it here. Interesting to have a track ‘about’ Caruso, too - ‘My Cousin Caruso’ - here sung/intoned/spoken and generally hammed to bits by ‘vocalist’ (the best description, possibly) Bill Murray.

Hugh Griffiths gives a detailed account of Caruso’s illnesses. Caruso made his last recordings at the age of 47; shortly thereafter he was dead. A tragedy. Yet, his recorded output is wide enough for us to enjoy him in a varied repertoire, and we should be ever grateful to Ward Marston for the care he has exercised in his restorations for this laudable project.

The first track chosen, Nina (Ciampi) is a remarkably funereal way to open the disc; so much so that the outpouring of melody that in De Crescenzo’s Première caresse is doubly welcome - just the sort of thing Caruso was (rightly) famous for. Caruso has the ability to convince you as you listen that he really is singing music of substance, even when, objectively considered, that is stretching belief. He sings the terribly sad, Senza nisciuno as if he is living every nuance.

The aria from Gomes’ Salvator Rosa was originally for soprano (although you’d never guess it, so strong is Caruso’s conviction). In fairness it sounds very much, musically, like the songs around it, being perhaps a rung or two up the musicality ladder. As seems to be Naxos’s habit, excerpts from opera or liturgical works are strewn among the popular songs, where they either elevate proceedings or give contrast, depending on one’s opinion. The Handel excerpt (‘Ombra mai fu’) is very much as one might expect - reverential, with Mantovani-like strings in the background. It would be very difficult indeed to guess that this is Handel until the famous orchestral introduction arrives and even then, it is sickly-sweet. Yet Caruso with his honeyed legato makes all that seem irrelevant. Much more impressive, though, is the famous Act IV, ‘Rachel, quand du Seigneur’ from La Juive (Halévy). Fully expressive, Caruso utilises a deep, full timbre to project the intense atmosphere.

Meyerbeer is, of course, sung in Italian (an excerpt from Act III of ‘L’Africana’). Caruso’s sense of line and pacing is magnificent - a pity this is immediately juxtaposed with some over-inflated, dirge-like Lully.

The liturgical excerpts (from Rossini’s Petite Messe Solenelle) contain a fair amount of passion (especially at the words ‘Jesu Christe’), yet the ‘Domine Deus’ does rather begin as if it could issue forth from any park bandstand you care to mention; the ‘Crucifixus’ flows well, with nice legato from Caruso.

The various songs are given the full Caruso treatment - full of suave phrasings or lively swaggers. His upper register is full of tone, his phrasing curved by a dance-like lilt.

An interesting issue, then, if not one I shall reach for every day.

Colin Clarke

see also review by Robert Farr

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