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Ernest Tilkin Servais: Arias and Songs
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)

La Favorite – Leonore viens [3:31]
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)

Guillaume Tell – Reste immobile [4:29]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)

Rigoletto – Tous deux egaux [4:13]; Au temple ou ma priere [4:23] (a); Vengeance eclatante [2:13] (a)
Le Trouvère – Tout est desert, et l’hymne accoutumée... Son regard, son doux sourire [4:37]; C’est l’ordre! Que le fils soit puni [4:32] (b); Sauvé! Sauvé! Bonheur divin [2:41] (b)
La Traviata – Lorsqu’a des folles amours [4:19]
La Bal masqué – Et c’est toi qui déchire mo name [3:52]
Ruggero LEONCAVALLO (1857-1919)

Paillasse – Prologue: Bonjour, c’est moi [4:31]; Prologue: Pardon, pardon [4:14]
Giuseppe GIORDANI (1744-1798)

Chère beauté (Caro mio ben) [3:35]
Edouardo di CAPUA (1865-1917)

Maria Mari [2:24]
Richard BARTHELEMY (?-?)

Chi se ne scorda [o]cchiu [2:36]
Giacomo MEYERBEER (1791-1864)

L’Africaine – Adamastor, roi des vagues profondes [3:42]; L’avoir tant adorée [4:02]
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)

La Damnation de Faust – Chanson de la puce [2:55]; Esprit des flammes [2:22]; Devant la maison [2:07]
Georges BIZET (1838-1975)

Carmen – Je suis Escamillo, torero [3:24] (c)
Leo DELIBES (1836-1891)

Lakmé – Lakmé, ton doux regard se voile [4:02]
Ambroise THOMAS (1811-1896)

Hamlet – O vin, dissipé la tristesse [3:58]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Dichterliebe – J’ai pardonné (no. 7) [2:29]
Piotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Pourquoi, Six romances, op 6, no 5 [2:37]
Charles BOHM (1844-1920)

Comme la nuit [2:20]
H J WOOD (?-?)

Resignation [4:08]
Gaston KNOSP (1874-1953)

La Kahena – L’Emir d’amour [3:05]
Fernand GOEYENS (1892-1965)

Maitresse aimée [2:59]; Pecheur napolitain [2:25]
Daniel-Francois-Esprit AUBER (1782-1871)

La muette de Portici – Amour sacré de la patrie [3:24] (c, d)
Robert PLANQUETTE (1848-1903)

La Régiment de Sambre et Meuse [2:32]
Francois-Auguste GEVAERT (1828-1908)

Vers l’Avenir [2:40]
Ernest Tilkin Servais (baritone) with anonymous orchestras and
Yvonne Brothier (soprano); Marguerite Roger (soprano); Fernand Ansseau (tenor); Piero Coppola (conductor)
Original recordings made 1920-1931. DDD
MUSIQUE EN WALLONIE MEW 0419-20 [56:59 + 56:12]

 

Among the teachers of the Belgian baritone Ernest Tilkin Servais (1888-1961) was Richard Barthelémy whose other pupils included Enrico Caruso, Tito Ruffo and Mary Garden. I now have not the slightest doubt that Tilkin Servais belongs to this select group and deserves the wider recognition that posterity has cruelly denied him. A bold claim for a name you most likely are unfamiliar with. Truth told, it was the same for me until a few weeks ago when I started reading up on Meyerbeer’s ‘Les Huguenots’, in advance of attending a performance in Liège later this year. Tilkin Servais’ name resounded in reviews of the performances he gave.

Following competition victories in 1911 his career was launched, and continued until 1945. You would be wrong to assume that Tilkin Servais had a career solely within Belgium. International successes were had at Covent Garden, in Amsterdam, Paris, Monte Carlo and Buenos Aires, with repertoire that included the major French and Italian composers of the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. German repertoire included Richard Strauss (Der Rosenkavalier and Salome), and all the major Wagner baritone roles.

There is no better ‘way in’ to a voice, its size, tone, the singer’s technique, etc. than through the Arie Antiche that Niccolo Vacchai advocated as vocal exercises, and this issue includes Giordano’s ‘Caro mio ben’ (CD1, track 13). This shows Tilkin Servais at the age of 32 in ringing voice, expressive throughout the range.

Intending to listen to the tracks and make instructive comparisons, I quickly abandoned the idea and took Tilkin Servais on his own terms. As one contemporary notice put it, the "big, beautiful baritone voice, so ample, sonorous and richly coloured, produced with an admirable technique allows him the subtlest of nuances and most brilliant outbursts." In forte passages there is not the slightest hint of hardening in the tone. Add to this a fine sense of style throughout, and you have a superbly formed baritone of the old Italian school. And, yes, despite singing in French, he is alive to the Italian feel of the works.

The recordings date from 1920 to 1931, the years of his exclusive contract with HMV. What we have here is all that is known to have survived. The two renditions of the prologue to I Pagliacci shows his vocal consistency and deepening awareness of a role. I suspect he would have been far from a rigid, ‘stand and deliver’ type of singer. If booklet photographs are anything to go by, then this image of singers of this time is nicely countered by his superb facial expressions as Tonio. I am prompted to wonder what his renditions of Scarpia and Amfortas would have been like, two stage roles he never recorded.

The duet recordings show Tilkin Servais’ ability to blend his voice with that of his partner, although Marguerite Roger is a little unsteady of tone. The patriotic duet from Auber’s La Muette de Portici, said to have sparked the Belgian Revolution for independence, and recorded on the centenary of that event, has a special place in the Tilkin Servais discography. Both he and Fernand Ansseau imbue it with feeling, significance and instill the regret that such works have slipped from the repertoire.

I care not one jot about the fact that practically all material is sung in French translations. Most collectors will probably have a reasonable idea of the repertoire sung, so the lack of texts or translations should matter little. Where the items are unknown then the solution is simple – admire great singing for its own sake. Indeed, where we have it, what a joy it is to turn to original French repertoire so magnificently performed. It is a pity that more of his French mélodies on record have not survived. The Schumann, Tchaikovsky and two Neapolitan songs are some compensation.

Nor does the process used to transfer recordings from 78 to CD worry me. The shellac sides were rerecorded digitally as they were played. As most tracks last no longer than one side on 78 original there is no issue with matching tunings, speeds, etc. to mask the side breaks. Background interference is minimal and, where present, adds to the atmosphere of listening to period recordings. The voice is always forward, and only in the early recordings does the accompaniment sound like a rusty squeezebox.

Thank God for independent companies that bring artists from ages past to our attention, supported with excellent documentation. Frederic Lemmers’ booklet note is an insightful model of its kind. Tilkin Servais emerges as the vocal equal of Tito Gobbi, and I mean that in all seriousness. Without hesitation, a seminal release to be urgently acquired by anyone with a passion for the best singing from any age.

Evan Dickerson



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