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Fonotipia – A Centenary Celebration 1904-2004
Leo DELIBES (1836-1891)

Lakmé – Dov´é l’indiana bruna? [3.42]
Maria Barrientos
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)

La Forza del Destino – E l’amante [3.10]
Giannina Russ and Oreste Luppi
Rigoletto – Ah! Deh non parlare al misero [1.54]
Riccardo Stracciari
Un Ballo in Maschera – Che v’agita cosi? [4.24]
Eugenia Burzio, Elisa Petri and Giovanni Zenatello
I Lombardi – Or tu m’ascotta [6.37]
Fernanda Chiesa (soprano) Carlo Albani (tenor) Luigi Manfrini (bass)

Printemps nouveau [2.27]
Amélie Talexis
Giacomo MEYERBEER (1791-1864)

L’Africaine – Averla tanto amata [2.41]
Ramón Blanchart
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)

Lohengrin – Di, non t’incantan [2.53]
Giuseppe Borgatti
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg – Nel verno al pie del focolar [2.34]
Giuseppe Borgatti

La Vita Brettone – Vivea nel tempo antico [2.44]
Adamo Didur
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)

Lucrezia Borgia – Come è bello, quale incanto [3.39]
Maria De Macchi
Poliuto – Di quai soave lagrime [3.01]
Maria De Macchi

Tess – Stanotte ho fatto un sogno [5.10]
Alessandro Bonci
Amilcare PONCHIELLI (1834-1896)

La Gioconda - Cielo e mar! [4.00]
Giovanni Zanatello
La Gioconda - Cielo e mar! [4.09]
Giuseppe Anselmi
La Gioconda – Intermezzo Act III (Prelude to Act IV) [3.22]
Orchestra of La Scala Milan/R Bracale
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)

La Bohème – Che gelida manina [4.19]
Giuseppe Anselmi
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Partita No.3 in E BWV 1006 – Gavotte and Rondeau [2.05]
Jacques Thibaud (violin)

Partrie – Dolorès et le Duc [4.06]
Victorien Sardou
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)

Rondo Capriccioso Op.14 in E major [3.37]
Marie Roger-Miclos (piano)
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Schwanengesang No.5 – Aufenthalt D957 [3.06]
Emmy Destinn
Ruggiero LEONCAVALLO (1858-1919)

I Pagliacci –Prologue [3.09]
Theodor Bertram
Recorded 1904-1913
SYMPOSIUM 1261 [77.12]

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Fonotipia was a powerhouse of operatic recording. Established as a minor player, a part of the International Talking Machine Company of Berlin, it began as an offshoot of Odeon but by 1906 it was established as a company in its own right. Fonotipia was, technically at any rate, based in Milan, though it did make forays to Berlin and Paris, and many of the leading Italian singers went into its studios to record. In all there are, we’re told, 6,712 matrices and for this celebration to mark the company’s centenary (which fell in 2004) Symposium has whittled this down to twenty-two representative items spanning less than a decade. All the recordings here were made between 1904 and 1911.

There were some exclusions, Symposium having done extensive work with certain Fonotipia artists in the past. So you won’t find Litvinne, Escalaïs or Maurel but you will find equally important artists such as Anselmi and Zenatello whose discs weren’t available for earlier Symposium release. The roster is impressive enough as it is and the transfers are in this company’s accustomed "limited intervention" house style. Certainly as a conspectus it offers a particular feel for Fonotipia’s imperatives in vocal art and preserves the voices of artists prominent on the operatic stage.

Barrientos is heard in Delibes with plenty of coloratura tricks and constant virtuoso flourishes, a combustible start to this survey, no doubt, if an imperfect one musically. Giannina Russ is here with her voice light but exquisitely shaded at the top in Verdi – and it should be remembered that many of these discs are contemporary artefacts. Verdi had died only the previous year when Russ and Luppi recorded from La Forze del Destino. Stracciari’s own Verdi is taken from a rather rough copy and he was later to take part in a complete Rigoletto in 1927. Back in 1904 the voice is obviously that much more youthful and impressive. Studio recording was in its relative infancy and so one hears how in Talexis’ Vidal how dimly she emerges from the grooves relative to other more forward sounding discs. She’s not quite at her best here – slightly unsteady. For admirers of Heddle Nash one can hear his Italian teacher, Giuseppe Borgatti. There’s certainly something of Borgatti’s Italianate lyric ease in Nash’s singing and Borgatti, who later went blind and retired from the stage, emerges as an important figure. Note his Mastersinger extract – very slow but very impressively sustained. There’s the Little and Large show in operation in the extract from Mugnone. Sung by the magnificently sonorous bass Adamo Didur we find him accompanied by the weedy violin of G Nastrucci; unusually it’s just the two of them and even odder, given the inherent imbalance, it works.

Maria De Macchi had a fine, florid technique though she is squally at the top in Donizetti. Zenatello is surprisingly uneven in Ponchielli’s Cielo e mar! and is heard to better effect in the Verdi trio with Burzio and Petri. Though this is another rather "distant" recording he outclasses Eugenia Burzio’s somewhat one-dimensional singing. There’s some blasting on this copy at climaxes. Bonci seems to be rather taken for granted these days but he was a major figure and recorded prolifically. We have the advantage of some unusual repertoire form him as well – an aria from Frederic d’Erlanger’s Tess. He’s given an orchestral accompaniment as well, which is also out of the ordinary, and he emerges as a communicative and virile artist. Theodor Bertram was an important figure and sounds it as well in I Pagliacci but the Destinn Schubert doesn’t show her at her finest – though the fact she is recorded in Lieder is of real interest of itself.

Whilst the vast majority of Fonotipia recordings were operatic they did make a few excursions into other waters. Three violinists recorded for them – Kubelík, von Vecsey and Thibaud and it’s the Frenchman we hear in a Paris disc of 1904/05 playing Bach with characteristic fluidity. The La Scala orchestra also recorded excerpts and we can appreciate their fine clarinettist in the Ponchielli La Gioconda Intermezzo and there is also Roger-Miclos sparkling in Mendelssohn, one of the very few pianists on the Fonotipia books. There was also recitation and the acme of that art is provided by Victorien Sardou, commanding in his reading of Patrie from his own Dolorès et le Duc.

All the artists receive potted biographies and all the discs are provided with full matrix and issue numbers, as one would expect from Symposium who have contributed a great deal to the discographic history of this company. Clearly this is a specialist issue but the net is cast widely and there are some epoch making performances and artists here in this centenary celebration of a great pioneering record company.

Jonathan Woolf

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