The thirteenth volume of the Gigli edition is
lucky for lovers of aria antiche. After a somewhat lame
series of miscellaneous discs in the London studios – in which,
for instance, he reprised with complete lack of conviction some
of John McCormack’s repertoire to salute the Count’s passing -
he was back with a well chosen and this time sensible selection
There was very little diminution in his technical
powers and certainly none in his expressive arsenal, which is
chock-full of the most subtle and effective shadings, half voice,
pianissimos and tonal beauty. The Mozart song may be sung in
Italian but the honey in the voice is still affectingly there.
With the Godard one appreciates the harvesting of his vocal
resources; the singing here is full of charm with Gigli’s legato
unimpaired by the advancing years. His passionate Herbert with
its characteristically deficient Gigli English is perhaps less
impressive, but the inconsequential Moya song does show how
artful and inspired his approach to trifles such as this could
become. The head voice is supplemented by a dazzlingly quick
downward portamento in true period style; it lifts, colours
and gives life to otherwise forgettable music.
The heart of the
disc however consists of aria antiche. These have been
well transposed and Gigli sings them with great reserves of
manliness and simplicity. Selve amiche is stately and
nobly expressive and he even fights off the galumphing basses
in Durante’s Vergin, tutto amor and manages to triumph.
Better still is the upper voiced melancholy of the Cesti, with
its grace and solicitous gravity wondrously deployed. The Mazziotti
song was recorded on Christmas Eve and is rather soupy but the
Monteverdi, then most unusual repertoire not least for Gigli,
is lyric and affecting – Gigli’s timbral plangency in these
arias is especially touching. His Caro mio ben, an aria
sung with relish by many of the Golden Age singers, receives
a reading of the utmost lightness of expression with a battery
of inflexions to make it live, not least a breathtaking use
the head voice in the divisions. It’s really only in the Scarlatti
Il Pompeo that he misjudges things and applies a veneer
of verismo that strikes a false note.
That the voice was still a clarion instrument
can be heard in the Mascagni, one of the relatively few of the
pieces here readily and immediately identifiable as Gigli territory.
As before the transfers
are lifelike, open, unproblematic and most attractive; notes
are pertinent and concise. The Gigli enthusiast will enjoy –
maybe even come to love – his evocative and noble way with the
aria antiche in particular.
see also Review
by Göran Forsling