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Joan Hammond (soprano) – Last Rose of Summer
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
La Boheme: Yes, They Call Me Mimi [4:50]
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Leslie Heward
Recorded at Town Hall, Birmingham. 1941
La Boheme: Lovely Maid In The Moonlight (with David Lloyd, tenor) [3:31]
La Boheme: To The Home That She Left [2:54]
Tosca: Love And Music [3:00]
Halle Orchestra/Leslie Heward
Recorded at Belle Vue Gardens Concert Hall, Manchester. 1941
Madame Butterfly: Love Duet: Ah, Love Me A Little (with Webster Booth, tenor) [6:33]
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Malcolm Sargent, Recorded: 1943
Madame Butterfly: One Fine Day [3:58]
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Leslie Heward
Recorded at Town Hall, Birmingham. 1941
Gianni Schicchi: O My Beloved Father [2:20]
Halle Orchestra/Leslie Heward
Recorded at Belle Vue Gardens Concert Hall, Manchester. 1941
Manon Lescaut: In quelle trine morbide [2:31]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Lawrence Collingwood, Recorded: 1947
Francesco CILEA (1866-1950)
Adriana Lecouvreur: Troppo, signori...Io sono l’umile ancella [3:04] Recorded: 1949
Adriana Lecouvreur: Poveri fiori [3:08]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Walter Susskind
Recorded: 1953
Alfredo CATALANI (1854-1893)
La Wally: Ebben, ne andro lontana [4:00]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
La Forza del Destino: Son giunta!...Madre, pietosa Vergine (with Chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden) [6:40]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Walter Susskind
Recorded: 1949
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Rusalka: O Silver Moon [4:34]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Vilem Tauský
Recorded: 1952
Pyotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Eugene Onegin: Tatiana’s Letter Scene: I Write To You [11:40]
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Constant Lambert
Recorded: 1943
TRADITIONAL (arr. Moore)
The Last Rose Of Summer [3:38]
Sir Henry Rowley BISHOP (1786-1855)
Clari: Home, Sweet Home [3:40]
Ernest Lush (piano), Recorded: 1950
Eric COATES (1886-1957)
Green Hills o’Somerset [3:34]
Gerald Moore (piano)
Recorded: 1941 AAD
REGIS RRC-1197 [75:40]

 

 

Until the arrival of EMI’s The Record of Singing Volume 4, I was not at all familiar with the voice of Dame Joan Hammond. However with that fantastic fourth (and final) compendium of the 78 era I came to know her “Marietta’s Lied” from Korngold’s opera Die Tote Stadt. In this she put nearly every other interpreter to shame. It very much left me wanting more.

For those unfamiliar with her life, she was born in Christchurch, New Zealand on 24 May 1912 and studied violin at the Sydney Conservatory. Much like the character portrayed by the late Katherine Hepburn in the film ‘Pat and Mike’, her primary interest was in sports. Like that character, she couldn’t decide between golf and tennis as to which one to pursue; she was very good at both. She was able to juggle her sports career with playing violin for the Sydney Philharmonic Orchestra. In the meantime, she began taking singing lessons, which she paid for by writing sports reports for newspapers.

In 1928 she made her operatic debut as Giovanna in Verdi’s Rigoletto and from 1931 through 1936, she sang occasionally with visiting opera companies. It was then that she left Australia to study in Vienna, Florence and London with Dino Borgioli. Sir Thomas Beecham invited her to perform Handel’s Messiah in 1938 in London. Shortly thereafter, she made her Viennese debut at the Volksoper as Nedda in Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci. During that season, she also sang the title role in Flotow’s Martha and Konstanze in Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail. She returned to Vienna the following year when the Staatsoper invited her to sing Mimi and Violetta in Puccini’s La Boheme and Verdi’s La Traviata respectively.

Back in London during the war, Hammond was an ambulance driver in addition to giving the occasional concert. Wartime audiences did not necessarily want her to sing opera and she often obliged with traditional songs. The first seven tracks are of Puccini arias and duets in English. They were recorded in 1941. They represent some of her finest singing. I must say, however, that hearing these well known selections sung in English takes a little getting used to. Apparently, the British public has no problem with it at all since she received a gold disc in 1969 after one million copies of O my beloved father had been sold. The quality of the sound, however, is not as good as the arias recorded in Italian (and English) during the late 1940s and early 1950s. She was fortunate to have such excellent partners as David Lloyd and Webster Booth in the love duets from La Boheme and Madame Butterfly. They acquit themselves admirably here although neither of them appeared very often on stage in opera nor did they make many operatic recordings.

The arias in Italian, recorded between 1947 and 1953, are truly stunning. It really makes one want to hear her complete performances of Manon Lescaut, La Forza del Destino, Adriana Lecouvreur and even La Wally. Cilea’s Poveri Fiori is especially luminous possibly because it is from the same 1953 sessions with Walter Susskind that produced the Korngold aria mentioned at the beginning of this review.

According to the well written liner-note by James Murray “During the 1950s many complete operas with Hammond were broadcast by the BBC ... including La Forza del Destino, Massenet’s Thais and Eugene Onegin.” One can only hope that they will some day be made available. On the subject of Onegin, the version of Tatiana’s Letter Scene, recorded in 1943, is astounding. Her voice was at its peak and the English translation by Shilovsky is excellent. The only unfortunate thing across the track’s eleven minutes is the “frenched” notes by the horn player at 6:49-6:51. The repeats of the phrase that follow are all fine, but I suppose the overall take was so breathtaking and since horn players only have so much “lip”, they decided to let it pass. A recording I have by Elisabeth Söderström on a Swedish EMI LP (recorded in 1972) is the only version I can compare it to.

The other aria in English O Silver Moon from Dvořák’s Rusalka is one that I collect recordings of and is, therefore, close to my heart. I first encountered it in the 1970s on operatic aria albums by Inge Borkh and Pilar Lorengar (both sung in German). There are at least 25 versions currently available, all in the original Czech including Renée Fleming, Teresa Stratas, Gabriela Benacková (all from complete recordings), as well as Lucia Popp, Nancy Gustafson, Lesley Garrett, Leontyne Price and even Sarah Brightman. I pulled out all of these and more, but Dame Joan held her own against all but the ladies in the complete recordings. It was in this role that she scored one of her greatest triumphs when Sadler’s Wells Opera gave her the first fully professional British premiere of Rusalka in February 1959.

The Last Rose of Summer and Home, Sweet Home from Bishop’s Clari, both recorded in 1950 with Ernest Lush at the piano, are exquisite. It takes a very special interpreter to put these “songs of sentiment” over without making them mannered or cloying. Another one such is another Dame Joan (Sutherland) who was from the same part of the world as Joan Hammond. Her version of the Bishop aria is performed ravishingly with just a harp accompaniment. The final track, Eric Coates’ Green Hills o’Somerset is something of a disappointment because the disc used for the transfer is so noisy. Recorded in 1941, it is nonetheless an important document, especially with the inimitable Gerald Moore providing the accompaniment. Dame Joan Hammond died in Bowral, New South Wales in 1996 at the age of 84.

Definitely recommended.

Gregory W. Stouffer

 

 

 



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