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John McCormack. The McCormack Edition - Volume 1
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)

Lucia di Lammermoor – Fra pocoa me ricivero; Tu che a Dio spiegasti l’ali
L’elisir d’Amore – Una furtive lagrima
La Fille du Régiment – Per viver vicino a Maria
William BALFE (1808-1870)

Georges BIZET (1838-1875)

Carmen – Il fior che avevi a me dato [sung in Italian]
Charles BARNARD (Charlotte ALLINGTON) (1830-69)

Come back to Erin
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)

La Bohème – Che gelida manina; O, Mimì, tu più non torni with Mario Sammarco (baritone)

The Minstrel Boy
Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes
The Snowy Breasted Pearl - arranged ROBINSON
My Lagan Love - arranged Hamilton HARTY
Molly Bawn - arranged MacMURROUGH
Has Sorrow Thy Young Days Shaded?
Lady John SCOTT

Annie Laurie
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)

La Traviata – Lunge da lei
Georges GOUNOD (1818-1893)

Faust – Salve dimora, casta e pura [sung in Italian]
Charles MARSHALL (1808-74)

I Hear You Calling Me
When Shadows Gather
Leo DELIBES (1836-1891)

Lakmé – Immenso vienteso [sung in Italian]
John McCormack (tenor)
Victor Orchestra
Recorded 1910
NAXOS 8.110328 [75.58]

It took some wrangling but Odeon released John McCormack from his contract thus allowing him to make a series of sides for Victor in New York in 1910. They are here in all their early glory and essentially in chronological order. The records divide fairly evenly between the operatic (McCormack did sing on stage early in his career but that was never his metier), ballads and folk songs – English, Scottish and of course Irish. It was in a sense a template of the recordings to come.

The Victors, from the shelves of some noted collectors, are in an excellent state of preservation and have been adroitly remastered by Ward Marston. The Victors were forward in their presentation of the voice as we can immediately hear in the Donizetti. Whilst stylistically the Italian-trained tenor may not unambiguously convince, the pessimistic voices who used to write off McCormack as an operatic failure would have a job demonstrating it from the examples here. His breath control is almost peerless – he could take phrases in one breath (Mozart most famously) that others would routinely have to split into two. The tone is clear, sweet, beautifully equalized and utterly inimitable. True there are perhaps some weak lower notes in the compass in Tu che a Dio spiegasti l’ali and I happen to find a touch of cover in the voice in Che gelida manina along with an effortful ascent as well. But Una furtive lagrima is much better – an exemplar of his bel canto singing, with head voice superbly floated, a spun legato, and a lightly shaded and inflected rendition; perhaps a touch studied but formidable nonetheless. The Puccini duet with Sammarco is dichotomous vocally – McCormack is ardent and bright, Sammarco rather woolly of tone. There’s a slight wear in the tenor’s voice in the Delibes – this was the first side of the session on 25th March so maybe the voice was cold. The other takes, of lighter songs, are in good voice.

In that lighter fare we find McCormack in fresh voice. His liquid ease in The Minstrel Boy is palpable – and there’s no barking here (where he raps it out) - of the kind that could creep into his performances in the 1920s and 1930s and certainly did in the later recordings of it. In Charles Marshall’s When Shadows Gather he holds the head note with exquisite perfection.

The transfers are first class, allowing the voice free rein unimpeded by treble cut or unnecessary noise suppression. It’s good that the booklet writer translates some of the Gaelic and Scottish phrases that might prove tricky – one tends to take them for granted without stopping to ask oneself if one understands them – though translating "bonnie" is rather over zealous. Otherwise a fine start to another essential vocal edition from Naxos

Jonathan Woolf

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