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Beniamino Gigli: The Gigli Edition Vol. 10
Beniamino Gigli (tenor), Maria Caniglia (soprano) (tracks 9, 10), Cloe Elmo (mezzo) (track 18), Giuseppe Noto (baritone)(track 23). Orchestras/Dino Olivieri (tracks 1–4, 15–16 and 20–21), Lawrance Collingwood (tracks 5–12), Luigi Ricci (tracks 13–14), Umberto Berrettoni (tracks 17–19 and 22–23)
Recorded in Milan and London 1938 – 1940.
NAXOS 8.110271 [77:29]

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Franz SCHUBERT (1797 – 1828) Ständchen
Cesare A. BIXIO (20th Century) Desiderio - Dir nur gehört mein Herz (Desiderio)
Johannes BRAHMS (1833 – 1897) Wiegenlied, Op. 49 No. 4
Giulio CACCINI (1550 – 1618) Amarilli
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 – 1791) Don Giovanni - Dalla sua pace (act 1)
De CRESCENDO (? - ?) Notte d’amore
Paolo TOSTI (1846 – 1916) Aprile
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 – 1901) La traviata - Ah si! da un anno … Un di felice (act 1)(with Maria Caniglia) - Oh! mia Violetta ... Parigi, o cara (act 3)(with Maria Caniglia)
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART Don Giovanni - Il mio tesoro (act 2)
Di CHIARA La spagnola
Sebasitán De YRADIER (1809 – 1865) La paloma
Stefano DONAUDY (1879 – 1925) O del mio amato ben
Ernesto De CURTIS (1875 – 1937) Maria, tu sei per me la vita
BUZZI-PECCIA (? - ?) Lolita
Giuseppe PIETRI (1886 – 1946) Maristella - Io conosco un giardino (act 1)
Giuseppe VERDI Il trovatore - Se m’ami ancor ... Ai nostri monti (act 4)(with Cloe Elmo)
Umberto GIORDANO (1867 – 1948) Fedora - Amor ti vieta (act 2)
Cesare A. BIXIO Mamma – Se vuoi goder la vita
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 – 1924) Manon Lescaut - Che avvien? ... No! Pazzo son (act 3)(with Giuseppe Noto)
Giuseppe VERDI Il trovatore - Di quella pira (act 3)


With this issue Naxos have reached volume 10 in their reissue series of the complete Gigli "singles". These have been restored by Mark Obert-Thorn and were previously released on Romophone in 2002. On this disc Gigli also reaches his 50th year and it is remarkable to notice that there is very little difference from his recordings of, say, 8-10 years earlier. I remarked, when reviewing the previous volume that it was possible to discern a slight hardening of tone and more of a spinto quality, enabling him to tackle for example Radames in Aida. At the same time he still retained his lyric characteristics: his ravishing half-voice, his pianissimos and sensitive phrasing; also, but actually to a lesser degree than before, his scooping, his intrusive "h"s and his theatrical sobs.

All of this is true also when we come to the present disc. Vocally it seems that his voice was in exceptionally fine fettle, not least during the 1939 sessions (tracks 5 – 14). During this period World War Two also broke out, which meant that he wasn’t able to make recordings in London, where so many of his most successful discs were recorded, and his live performances were confined to Italy and Germany. Here we also have, as far as I can remember, the only recorded examples of Gigli singing in German, and generally speaking they are none too successful. Never a Lieder-singer, Gigli nevertheless tried to widen his repertoire into this area, and tracks 1 and 4 on this disc finds him on well-known territory: Schubert’s Ständchen and Brahm’s Wiegenlied (Cradle Song). Neither of them goes to a top position in the pantheon of Lieder interpretations. In Schubert his voice is strong and steady and has fire and he ends in ravishing half-voice, while the Brahms is sung very softly and with considerable beauty. Other excursions to foreign worlds include the two tenor arias from Mozart’s Don Giovanni and of course he cannot compete with collegues like McCormack and Tauber. Especially in the second act aria Il mio tesoro (track 11) he displays something approaching Mozartean style, lighter and less scoopy than the first, but his runs are a bit rushed. Even further back in music history he tackles Caccini’s early baroque "hit" Amarilli, and beautiful it is. His mezza voce is at its most suave. Not what is expected today in this kind of repertoire but, as Alan Blyth says in his essay: "So much the worse for today’s views."

As usual there is a fair share of "Neapolitan songs" (the quotation marks implying that they are not necessarily from Naples) and here he is on home ground. One can pick almost any of these tracks and find performances that few other tenors have challenged, let alone surpassed. Let me point out O del mio amato ben (track 14), where one must admire his fine legato and the beauty of his piano singing, and Lolita (track 16) – so restrained, but so beautiful, when not bawled out. La spagnola (track 12), with castanets, finds him in exuberant form in his last London session. The next track, recorded a month and a half later in Milan, La paloma, is more backwardly balanced but his singing of this old war-horse is fine indeed. The two Bixio songs, recorded in November 1940 are very much dance music of the era and in Se vuoi goder la vita (track 21) we even hear an accordion in the introduction. In this piece Gigli is extremely lively, obviously enjoying himself greatly but his singing never becomes coarse and about two minutes into the song he makes one of his most enchanting diminuendos.

We also meet the opera singer Gigli, not only in Mozart. His almost ideal Alfredo in La traviata is heard in the two duets recorded in Kingsway Hall on June 5th 1939 with his regular partner Maria Caniglia. Parigi, o cara (track 10) is a wonderful example of simple, unaffected, beautiful singing. Caniglia’s big voice wasn’t an ideal instrument for Violetta and she can be a bit squally, her voice sometimes over-powering the poor microphone. She manages, though, to scale it down and sound suitably affected by tuberculosis in the third act duet.

Two excerpts from Il trovatore are also included. The Manrico – Azucena scene from act 4 (track 18) is one of the highlights with lyrical, finely nuanced singing from both Gigli and the splendid Cloe Elmo, restrained but deeply involved. Di quella pira (track 23) was written with a quite different type of voice in mind. Gigli sings heroically but he is a size too small. He is much better suited to Des Grieux in Manon Lescaut and the third act scene recorded here is full of passion and despair – and also a fair share of sobs.

The remaining two opera excerpts again find him at his best. He premiered the opera Maristella in 1940 and fell in love with Io conosco un giardino recorded here, which he added to his concert repertoire. It is a beautiful aria and Gigli is audibly inspired. The front cover, incidentally, reproduces a photo of Gigli in this role. The other is the well-known Amor ti vieta from Fedora. Andrea Chenier by the same composer, Giordano, was a favourite role, which he also recorded complete, but his voice is certainly well suited to this aria too.

Good sound considering the period, the London sessions more forward and with more detail, good documentation and the usual perceptive essay by Alan Blyth, all make this another essential buy for the Gigli collector. It can also be confidently recommended to every other admirer of good tenor singing.
Göran Forsling

reviews of previous volumes in this series
Can be confidently recommended to Gigli collectors and every other admirer of good tenor singing. ... see Full Review

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