McCormack had two parallel singing careers. In the first he
made a name for himself singing opera in London
and New York. Though he made his operatic debut
in Milan (in
1905), it was at Covent Garden
and the Metropolitan that his career thrived; the weight and
quality of his voice meant that he was not popular in Italy. He made his New York operatic debut in 1909.
to this was his career as a song recitalist, a singer of ballads
and sentimental ballads. The wonderful lyric quality of his
voice combined with his superb diction and sensitivity to the
text and the music meant that, as a recitalist, he was a wonderful
communicator. No matter what the quality of his material, his
performances are always on a higher plane entirely. His success
in this sphere eventually led him to drop operatic appearances
is the second volume of Naxos’s
McCormack Edition and it deals with his acoustic recordings
from the years 1910 and 1911. McCormack recorded a mixture of
operatic items and songs but it is songs which predominate.
Of the 22 items on this disc, 13 are sentimental ballads and
Irish songs and two are songs by Rossini. There are just seven
operatic items and two of those are repeated.
must confess that I find a little of this sentimental repertoire
goes a long way. Despite McCormack’s lovely delivery, listening
to all these songs at one sitting is not something I’d want
to do regularly. But even if one cannot appreciate the songs,
you can admire the wonders of McCormack’s technique; the lovely
long spun lines, the haunting head voice in Ah Moon of my
Delight and Macushla and the sheer beauty of tone.
It must be admitted that the simple beauty of McCormack’s voice
is something which comes over only intermittently in these recordings.
Sometimes there are patches where he sounds rather too acid,
but then in an item like Rossini’s Mira la Bianca luna
you can be knocked sideways by the beauty of his voice and the
sheer luxury of his phrasing. Another point to bear in mind
is the simple directness of his technique, in these songs and
ballads he never sounds particularly old fashioned.
Quartet from Rigoletto and two versions of the trio from
Faust come from McCormack’s only recording session with
Nellie Melba. It was evidently a stormy one. In the quartet,
McCormack displays his familiar long elegant phrasing and Edna
Thornton is a rather perky, unmatronly Maddalena, but Melba
is rather distant. This is not an ideal version of the quartet
and only memorable for the novelty of the pairing of McCormack
and Melba. In both version of the Faust trio Melba gets
her revenge; here it is definitely her show and McCormack is
relegated to the background.
duet from Bizet’s Les Pecheurs de Perles was recorded
twice in the same year, both times in Italian. There is certainly
much to admire here as this sort of tenor role is ideal for
McCormack’s lyric voice.
two duets from Rossini’s Les Soirées Musicales are charmingly
done, making one wish for more. But in the duet from Il Barbieri
di Siviglia Mario Sammarco impresses but McCormack’s passagework
is rather inadequate. The final item on the disc is something
of a novelty nowadays, the wonderfully dramatic duet from Ponchielli’s
discs have all been re-mastered by the ever wonderful Ward Marston.
Many people will want to collect this new McCormack Edition
and as a record of some stunning singing this disc is ideal.
Even if you are not taken with McCormack’s repertoire of sentimental
songs, at Naxos’s
super-budget price this disc is well worth acquiring as a record
of one of the loveliest tenor voices of the early 20th
see also Review
by Göran Forsling