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Nellie Melba - The Complete American Recordings: Volume 2
NAXOS 8.110335 [74.33]

 


Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)

01. En sourdine [03:08]
Nellie Melba, soprano / Studio pianist, piano
Recorded: 1 January 1909
Landon RONALD (1873-1938)

02. Down in the Forest [02:51]
Nellie Melba, soprano / Studio pianist, piano
Recorded: 1 January 1909
03. White Sea Mist [02:16]
Nellie Melba, soprano / Studio pianist, piano
Recorded: 1 January 1909
Reynaldo HAHN (1875-1947)

04. D'une prison [02:43]
Nellie Melba, soprano / Studio pianist, piano
Recorded: 1 January 1909
Thomas MOORE (1779-1852)

05. Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms [02:39]
Nellie Melba, soprano / Nellie Melba, piano
Recorded: 1 January 1909
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)

06. Otello: Piangea cantando nell'erma landa (Willow Song) [04:32]
Nellie Melba, soprano
Studio Orchestra
Walter B. Rogers, conductor
Recorded: 6 January 1909
07. Otello: Ave Maria, piena di grazia [03:30]
Nellie Melba, soprano
Studio Orchestra
Walter B. Rogers, conductor
Recorded: 6 January 1909
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)

08. La Boheme: Donde lieta usci al tuo grido d'amore [03:16]
Nellie Melba, soprano
Studio Orchestra
Walter B. Rogers, conductor
Recorded: 6 January 1909
Landon RONALD (1873-1938)

09. O Lovely Night [04:00]
Nellie Melba, soprano
Studio Orchestra
Walter B. Rogers, conductor
Recorded: 6 January 1909
Charles MILLER

10. Ye Banks and Braes o' Bonnie Doon [02:49]
Nellie Melba, soprano / Nellie Melba, piano
Recorded: 6 January 1909
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)

11. La Boheme: Mi chiamano Mimi [04:15]
Nellie Melba, soprano
Studio Orchestra
Walter B. Rogers, conductor
Recorded: 22 August 1910
12. La Boheme: Donde lieta usci al tuo grido d'amore [03:23]
Nellie Melba, soprano
Studio Orchestra
Walter B. Rogers, conductor
Recorded: 23 August 1910
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)

13. La Traviata: Ah fors' e lui... Follie, follie!... Sempre libera [05:02]
Nellie Melba, soprano
Studio Orchestra
Walter B. Rogers, conductor
Recorded: 23 August 1910
Henry BISHOP (1786-1855)

14. Lo! Here the Gentle Lark [03:14]
Nellie Melba, soprano / John Lemmone, flute
Studio Orchestra
Walter B. Rogers, conductor
Recorded: 23 August 1910
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

15. Le nozze di Figaro: Voi che sapete [03:31]
Nellie Melba, soprano
Studio Orchestra
Walter B. Rogers, conductor
Recorded: 23 August 1910
Luigi ARDITI

16. Se saran rose [03:05]
Nellie Melba, soprano
Studio Orchestra
Walter B. Rogers, conductor
Recorded: 23 August 1910
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)

17. Faust: Ah! Je ris de me voir si belle (Jewel Song) [03:01]
Nellie Melba, soprano
Studio Orchestra
Walter B. Rogers, conductor
Recorded: 24 August 1910
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)

18. L'Allegro, il penseroso ed il moderato: Sweet Bird [04:35]
Nellie Melba, soprano / John Lemmone, flute
Studio Orchestra
Walter B. Rogers, conductor
Recorded: 24 August 1910
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)

19. Lucia di Lammermoor: Ardon gl'incensi (Mad Scene) [04:58]
Nellie Melba, soprano / John Lemmone, flute
Studio Orchestra
Walter B. Rogers, conductor
Recorded: 24 August 1910
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)

20. Don Cesar de Bazan: A Saville, belles Senoras (Sevillana) [02:57]
Nellie Melba, soprano / John Lemmone, flute
Studio Orchestra
Walter B. Rogers, conductor
Recorded: 24 August 1910
Ambroise THOMAS (1811-1896)

21. Hamlet: Des larmes de la nuit (Mad Scene) [04:46]
Nellie Melba, soprano / John Lemmone, flute
Studio Orchestra
Walter B. Rogers, conductor
Recorded: 25 August 1910

 

The first volume in the American disc series;
http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2005/Mar05/Melba_american1.htm
Other issues from the series;
http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2004/Jun04/Melba_Naxos.htm
http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2002/Dec02/NellieMelbaVol2.htm
http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2002/Sept02/Nellie_Melba.htm

This is, I believe, the sixth Melba disc in the unfolding series from Naxos. The first four were devoted to her Paris and London sessions and the focus of interest has now switched to her New York recordings, of which this is the second volume. There’s one more volume to come to complete those sessions. She returned to much of her previously recorded repertoire and made discs that differ very little one from another in any significant respect. There can be few artists in recorded history whose performances, even if made a scant few years apart, bear such close resemblance. Not even her sometimes glacial, erstwhile recital and recording colleague Jan Kubelík could best her in that department.

The nature of that sheer consistency of approach, in all expressive contours, argues of course for two things; uniformity of theatrical performance and a superb, unwavering technique. And yet not everything was artistically successful. In a disc that takes a chronological look – rightly so, and it’s what we have come to expect of this series – there are inevitably casualties. The back of the jewel box for instance awards an accolade to her Debussy, which might be considered unusually novel repertoire amidst the Donizetti, Verdi, Puccini, Handel and more homespun favourites she sings in these 1909-10 sides. Far from finding it "compelling" I have to say I find it inert. That blanche emotional response is of course an old, repeated criticism of her singing and often bears great weight. And yet I don’t find the same kind of response in her Hahn, which sounds far more idiomatic, and must be one of the earlier recordings of this composer’s music on disc.

As for her Italian repertoire much reprises performances heard earlier in this series, such as the Mad Scene from Thomas. Her kind of strict purity works well enough for Otello, if never very movingly and the unsympathetic will find in her voice, its deployment, and the mechanism that animates it something rather uninvolving in her Bohème. Throughout however certain aspects of her technique remain imperishable; the pure, perfectly centred tone seldom burnished by much vibrato, the incendiary rapidity of her trills, and, when she chose, the deployment of sentiment in such a song as Ye Banks and Braes, which is preferable to her Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms. The coloratura remained intact pretty much to the end – the Covent Garden farewell of 1926 showed her voice in still splendid estate – and the approach embodied strong elements of nineteenth century performance practice, such as the interpolated G in the Mozart and the outrageous reprise of a Melba favourite from L'Allegro, il penseroso ed il moderato - Sweet Bird.

Some of the discs have quite a degree of surface noise but the voice itself is forward in the balance and perfectly audible; pitching seems to me to have been carried out with acumen. On to number seven.

Jonathan Woolf



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