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Rosa Ponselle - American Recordings 1923-1929: Volume 4
Giuseppe VERDI (1813–1901)
La forza del destino:
1. Pace, pace, mio Dio [4:37]
2. Pace, pace, mio Dio [4:42]
Ernani:
3. Ernani! Ernani involami [4:40]
Antonin DVOŘÁK (1841–1904)
4. Songs My Mother Taughts Me [2:41]
Anton RUBINSTEIN (1829–1894)
5. Since I First Met Thee [3:16]
Giuseppe VERDI
La forza del destino:
6. Io muoio! [3:28]
7. Non imprecare, umiliati [4:40]
8. Io muoio! [3:27]
9. Non imprecare, umiliati [4:42]
Aida:
10. Ritorna vincitor [4:49]
Il trovatore:
11. Miserere [4:30]
12. Miserere [4:28]
La forza del destino:
13. La vergine degli angeli [4:33]
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835)
Norma:
14. Sediziose voci … Casta diva [4:51]
15. Ah! bello a me ritorna (Cabaletta) [3:03]
16. Mira, o Norma [7:20]
Rosa Ponselle (soprano); Marion Telva (contralto) (16), Giovanni Martinelli (tenor) (6-9, 11, 12), Ezio Pinza (bass) (6-9, 13); Metropolitan Opera Chorus (11-16), orchestra/Giulio Setti (11-16); Rosario Bourdon (1-10)
rec. Camden, NJ, 17 January 1928 (1-5), 18 January 1928 (6-10), 23 January 1928 (11-13), 31 December 1928 (15); 30 January 1929 (14, 16)
Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer: Ward Marston
NAXOS 8.111141 [69:48]

Like its predecessor, which I reviewed last month, this disc contains some takes that were not published on 78 rpm. These are tracks 2, 6 and 7. In all likelihood you can add track 11 or 12, since these are also first and second takes of the same duet and it doesn’t make sense that they both should have been published as Victor 8097A, the reverse side being the Forza duet La vergine degli angeli (tr. 13). In Europe this was released as HMV DB 1199 and remained in the catalogue until the end of the 78 rpm era.

It is no overstatement to claim that here is some of the most accomplished Verdi singing ever put on records, from Rosa Ponselle as well as her male partners. Just take the first two tracks, two takes of the aria Pace, pace, mio Dio from La forza del destino. The glorious tone and the ability to live the part are of course admirable and never to be taken for granted, but even more notable are the superb technical control and exquisite phrasing. The first long note is started at an almost inaudible pianissimo, then swells to a forte and then back again with complete dynamic control. Both takes are as perfect as it is possible to imagine from a living creature, with the possible exception of the final note of the second take, which seems to be less than ideally nourished. The Ernani aria is sung with a certain swagger, she has a perfect trill and the florid passages of the cabaletta are sung with a light touch. The seductive ritardando is highly effective – self-indulgent perhaps but this is a freedom that I believe Verdi himself would have endorsed. The legato in the Dvořák is masterly and she sings Rubinstein’s rarely heard song with glow.

The two versions of the finale from La forza del destino are also difficult to fault, though it seems that they are even more involving in the second take, which was also the one that was published. It is always good to hear the noble and warm voice of Pinza – Non imprecare – and incandescent tone of Martinelli. In Ritorna vincitor from Aida Ponselle floats her tone magically, whereas in the Miserere from Il trovatore she is more vibrant. It can be noted that Martinelli is as closely recorded as Ponselle and that he, surprisingly, uses the intrusive ‘h’ a couple of times.

The duet from Forza is a classic and so is Ponselle’s Norma, the role that was arguably her greatest success. Sediziose voce is grand and vibrant though she begins Casta diva so softly and inwardly, while the cabaletta is again powerful. The duet, Mira, o Norma, was legendarily recorded in the 1960s by Joan Sutherland and Marilyn Horne but Ponselle and Telva are on the same level and are just as beautifully matched when singing in unison. They are even more delicate with the superbly timed ritardandi.

After these Norma sides in 1929 Ponselle didn’t return to a gramophone studio for more than a decade. They are glorious documents of her singing during her heyday – as are the rest of the tracks on this disc. The sound is everything one could wish for and there are good liner notes by Bill Park.

Göran Forsling 

 

 

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