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Nellie Melba - The Complete American Recordings - Volume 1
Nellie Melba (soprano)
Enrico Caruso (tenor) (1)
Charles Gilibert (baritone) (3)
Ada Sassoli (harp) (2)
Charles K. North (flute) (4)
Nellie Melba (piano) (6)
Unknown Orchestra/Walther B. Rogers (5)
Recorded 5th, 24th, 27th-30th March 1907, New York
NAXOS 8.110334 [71.49]

 

Giuseppe VERDI (1813 - 1901) Caro Nome (Rigoletto) (1851) [3.51] (5)
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 - 1924)

Si, mi chiamano Mimi (La Boheme) (1896) [4.21] (5)
O Soave Fanciulla (La Boheme) (1896) [3.25] (1, 5))
Vissi d’arte (Tosca) (1900) [4.21] (5)
Donde lieta usci al tuo grido d’amore(La Boheme) (1835) [3.09] (5)
Charles GOUNOD (1818 - 1893) Air de bijoux (Faust) (1859) [3.09] (5)
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 - 1901) Ah! Fors’e lui…Sempre libera (La Traviata) (1853) [4.20] (5)
Francesco Paolo TOSTI (1848 - 1916)

Goodbye [4.17] (5); La Serenata [3.47] (2)
Felice BLANGINI (1781 - 1841) Per valli, per boschi [2.15] (3, 5)
Herman BEMBERG (1859 - 1931) Un ange est venu [3.04] (3, 5)
Reynaldo HAHN(1875 - 1947) Si mes vers avaiet des ailes [2.20] (2)
Wofgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 - 1791) Voi che sapete (Le nozze de Figaro) (1786) [3.15] (5)
Ambroise THOMAS (1811 - 1896) Mad Scene (Hamlet) (1868) [7.53] (5)
Luigi ARDITI (1822 - 1903) Se saran rose [3.08] (5)
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797 - 1848) Mad Scene (Lucia di Lammermoor) (1835) [4.07] (4, 5)
Henry BISHOP (1786 - 1855) Lo! Here the Gentle Lark [3.05] (4, 5)
George Frideric HANDEL (1685 - 1739) Sweet Bird (L’Allegro, il Penseroso et il Moderato) (1740) [4.23] (4,5)
Francesco Paolo TOSTI (1848 - 1916) Mattinata [2.20] (6)

 

By my reckoning this is the fifth Melba-Naxos release that I’ve reviewed. The earlier volumes took in the London and Paris sessions whilst this one collates the 1907 New York discs. Some revisit previous discographic triumphs for the new market and this indeed is the first of three such volumes that will gives us her complete Victor recordings from 1907-16.

With Melba it’s very much a case of "same as before." The voice didn’t deteriorate appreciably, the technique remained largely intact and the questions of interpretation and impersonation remain as idiosyncratic as ever. The copies used by Ward Marston sound in good estate; there are a few flaws in one or two but these sound to be pressing bumps and are inherent – otherwise we can listen with particular pleasure. The repertoire is the by now accustomed mixture of Verdi and Puccini, French (canonic and contemporary), lighter popular material and baroque showpieces.

Caro nome might have been recorded expressly to cultivate and promote the idea that Melba sang with immaculate dullness. The tone is white, the expressive potential severely constrained, the sense of projection limited. And yet this is not, and never was, the full story. Sì, mi chiamano Mimì has quick portamenti and a very clean, clear unvarnished tone, almost devoid of vibrato – and the voice is rather backward in the balance. She’s really no match for Caruso in their duet together. The Blanche tone sits incongruously against his, though she’s not underpowered. Her Hahn, a favourite, shows consistent adventure in and understanding of the younger French school; these are amongst her most immediately intriguing and noteworthy sides. One can contrast her Voi che sapete with Patti’s (on Symposium, recently reviewed) and find that Melba is a model of restraint and style in comparison. Even so the accelerandi (par for the nineteenth century course stylistically, it seems) and ritenuto are still remarkable features and must show us a glimpse of Mozartian style prevailing at the time.

Her Thomas proves resilient and impressive. The famous trill is firmly centred, the yelp of pain and the coloratura are mightily impressive and a sense of expressive power (unusual for her) certainly palpable. In the relative confines of time and place it’s a powerful recording. Characterisation however comes second to precision in the Donizetti Mad Scene, which sounds to us badly under characterised. As a final treat though there’s the self-accompanied Mattinata.

A representative collection of Melba is more of a necessity than a luxury and admirers should have these 1907 sessions in their collection.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Robert Hugill

Volume 1

Volume 2

Volume 3

Volume 4

 



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