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The Gigli Edition Vol. 12: London Recordings 1946-1947
Fromental HALÉVY (1799 – 1862) La Juive: Rachel, quand du Seigneur; Edouard LALO (1823 – 1892) Le Roi d’Ys: Puisq’on ne peut … Vainement [ma] ô bien-aimée; Paolo TOSTI (1846 – 1916) Parted; MURRAY I’ll walk beside you; Salvatore CARDILLO (19th/20th Cent) Core ‘ngrato; Jules MASSENET (1842 – 1912) Manon: Je suis seul! … Ah! Fuyez, douce image; Werther: Pourquoi me réveiller?; FALVO (?) Dicitencello vuje; Traditional Adeste fideles; Franz GRUBER (1787 – 1863) Silent night, holy night; Franz SCHUBERT (1797 – 1828) Ave Maria; Pietro MASCAGNI (1863 – 1945) Cavalleria rusticana: O Lola (Siciliana); Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810 – 1849) Reviens mon amour (from Étude in E major Op. 10 No. 3) [Tristesse]; CITTADINI (?) Ninna nanna; Paolo TOSTI Segreto; CITTADINI Nostalgia d’amore; WILLIAMS (?) Vidalita, Op. 45 No. 3; BUCHARDO (?) Canción del Carretero (from Seis Canciónes al estilo popular); May BRAHE (1885 - 1956) Bless this house; PENN (?) Smilin’ through
Beniamino Gigli (tenor)
Royal Opera House Orchestra, Covent Garden (tr. 1 – 8), Orchestra (tr. 9 – 11, 13 – 20)/Rainaldo Zamboni. tr. 9 with chorus, Herbert Dawson, organ, and Kitty Wilson, harp, tr. 10 – 11 with Herbert Dawson, organ, and Kitty Wilson, harp, tr 12 with harp accompaniment by Kitty Wilson
rec. Studio 1, Abbey Road, London, 4 December, 1946 (tr. 1 – 4), 13 December 1946 (tr. 5 – 8), in Kingsway Hall, London, 26 November, 1947 (tr. 9 – 12), 27 November 1947 (tr. 13 – 16), Studio 1, Abbey Road, London, 30 November 1947 (tr. 17 – 20)
NAXOS 8.111101 [67:05]

I don’t know how many further volumes there will be in this series but Gigli went on singing for several years after these sessions. If I remember correctly there was once an LP issued with a live recital recorded in Sweden (Gothenburg ?) around 1953. I never heard it but a review I saw years later was quite harsh. No cause for harshness about this issue, though. It is true that Gigli was well past 55 and it is also true that there are signs of wear, but surprisingly little, considering that he had been singing professionally for more than thirty years. One can notice strain in his forte singing but the voice still rings out with that glorious tone we remember from his heydays in the 1920s and 1930s. His mezza voce (half voice) is as ravishing as ever. Wisely he also chooses repertoire according to this; some of the songs on this disc are unabashed tear-jerkers, but – so what? I could very well live without half of these songs but I will certainly listen to some of them once in a while without blushing. Even if the songs are no great art the singing certainly is.

By now most regular readers will know how much I like Gigli, warts and all. They also know that I will end the review with a recommendation. But while listening I made my customary notes and it’s a shame not to report some remarks I made. So here we go:

Eleazar’s aria from La juive, once made famous by Caruso, offers impassioned singing, marred by intrusive ‘h’s, but he sings it in the original French, as he does the following aria from Lalo’s Le Roi d’Ys, today a rarity but much feted by tenors of the Golden Age – McCormack made a memorable recording but Gigli on his best behaviour runs him close and the end is magical. The two Massenet arias are, alas, sung in Italian, but Massenet always suited Gigli’s voice and no one can doubt his conviction. The Werther aria in particular is a wonder of vocalism – and the man was 56! He also sings O Lola from Cavalleria rusticana, performed to harp accompaniment as part of the prelude behind the curtain. He recorded the opera complete with the composer conducting a few years earlier but obviously wasn’t very satisfied with it and here got an opportunity to set it down again. We should be happy that he did for it shows his heroic tenor in good shape.

In between this handful of arias we are treated to the usual lighter fare: Neapolitan songs by Tosti, Cardillo, Cittadini and Falvo. This was always repertoire where he excelled. Core ‘ngrato for example is sung with a pathos that puts Pavarotti in the shadows – even though some portamenti are a bit overdone – but the final notes are glorious. But there are also some more unexpected items, for instance Murray’s I’ll walk beside you, rather sentimentally done but I think that’s the way it has to be sung – or not at all. Anyway he lavishes all his technical skill on it with a lovely final tone as an extra bonus. Adeste fideles and Silent night were probably bestsellers, recorded just weeks before Christmas 1947. The former is in the grand manner while Silent night is intimate and nobly sung in his inimitable half voice. Nothing cheap about this reading but the orchestra might have sounded healthier without that overdose of saccharine. Ave Maria may not be the last word in Schubertian stylishness, and here he excels in intrusive ‘h’s again, but especially the last lines of the song are marvellously beautiful and inward. And poor Chopin’s E major etude is of course best heard in the piano version but the melody is so pure, something no arrangement can spoil and one can’t help admiring Gigli’s voice control.

Mark Obert-Thorn has again managed to lift Gigli’s voice out of the old shellacs and present him to us in the best possible light. This late in the 1940s it was fully possible to get a fairly lifelike orchestral sound too.

Maybe this disc doesn’t add very much to our picture of Beniamino Gigli but it is still so marvellous to hear him in such good shape, so, believe it or not, here is another "must buy" for the Gigli enthusiast. A safe recommendation for the general lover of good singing.

Göran Forsling

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