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Lauritz Melchior – American Recordings 1946–1947
Eugen HILDACH (1849–1924)
1. Der Lenz [2:34]
Vincent YOUMANS (1898–1946)
2. Without a song [3:00]
Henry E. GEEHL (1881–1961)
3. For you alone [2:33]
Franz LEHÁR (1870–1948)
Das Land des Lächelns:
4. Dein ist mein ganzes Herz [3:14]
F. ANDERSEN (?)
5. I det frie (Danish Children’s Song) [2:48]
Georges BIZET (1838–1875)
6. Agnus Dei [3:08]
Cole PORTER (1891–1964)
7. Easy to love [3:02]
Franz GRUBER (1787–1863)
8. Stille Nacht (Silent Night) [3:14]
Adolphe ADAM (1803–1856)
9. Cantique de Noël [3:22]
Ethelbert NEVIN (1862–1901)
10. The Rosary [2:54]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685–1750) / Charles GOUNOD (1818–1893)
11. Ave Maria [2:52]
Richard HEUBERGER (1850–1914)
Der Opernball:
12. Im chambre séparée (The kiss in your eyes) [2:33]
Fritz ROTTER (1900–1984)
13. Spring came back to Vienna [2:48]
Johann STRAUSS II (1825–1899)
14. Kaiserwalzer [2:37]
Ernesto De CURTIS (1875–1937)
15. Torna a Surriento [3:00]
Jerome KERN (1885–1945)
16. The song is you [2:53]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882–1971) (arr. Klenner)
17. Summer moon [3:04]
Ruggiero LEONCAVALLO (1858–1919)
18. Mattinata [3:00]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797–1828)
19. Was ist Sylvia? [2:32]
Reginald De KOVEN (1859–1920)
Robin Hood:
20. O promise me [2:29]
Carrie JACOBS-BOND (? - ?)
21. I love you truly [2:37]
trad. (arr. Kramer)
22. All mein Gedanken (Minnelied) [3:11]
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858–1924)
Tosca:
23. Recondita armonia [2:55]
24. E lucevan le stelle [3:06]
Ruggiero LEONCAVALLO
Pagliacci:
25. Vesti la giubba [3:40]
26. No, Pagliaccio non son! [2:42]
trad.
27. Helan går [Swedish drinking song] [2:43]
Lauritz Melchior (tenor)
MGM Studio Orchestra/Georgie Stoll (1-21, 27); Giacomo Spadoni (23-26), Georgie Stoll (piano), Lou Raderman (violin), Albert Sendry (organ)(22);
with chorus (5-7, 27)
rec. 12 October 1946 (1-3), 31 December 1946 (4-7), 16 June 1947 (8-11), 23 June 1947 (12-14), 16 December 1947 (15-18), 18 December 1947 (19-22), 26 December 1947 (23-27). ADD
NAXOS 8.111239 [78:36]

 


During 1946 and 1947 the great Wagnerian tenor Lauritz Melchior was in Hollywood making films. He had shown his comic talent when imitating Frank Sinatra. Now MGM saw an opportunity to cash in on the big Dane, while at the same time Melchior found it convenient to have “a little vacation from Valhalla”. While in Hollywood he also recorded a number of 78 rpm sides with repertoire we don’t normally associate with him: operetta, musical comedy and some Italian opera arias. Two of the titles are from the soundtrack of the movie Luxury Liner: track 13 Spring came back to Vienna and track 27 Helan går, a Swedish drinking song.

In a note in the booklet Mark Obert-Thorn comments on the problems he encountered when making the transfers. All these recordings were dubbings from other media, so there was already a loss of quality. Moreover Melchior was miked very closely and to compensate for the risk of distortion in louder passages the MGM engineers used limiters, which in effect means that the dynamic range of his voice is compressed. In spite of these shortcomings – and the fact that some of the shellacs were rather noisy – it is still interesting to hear the singer in this repertoire. Not all the music is really suited to his voice or temperament but he sings everything wholeheartedly and with great enthusiasm and his diction is exemplary. His large voice is still in good shape, remarkably so when one considers his enormously heavy schedule for so many years, singing 223 Tristans, 183 Siegmunds, 144 Tannhäusers, 128 Siegfrieds, 107 ‘elder’ Siegfrieds, 106 Lohengrins, 81 Parsifals and around 2,100 concerts! It isn’t as easily produced as it was a few years earlier – I have a live Lohengrin from the Met, where he is glorious and even more so in the mid-1930s when he recorded that legendary first act of Die Walküre with Lehmann and Bruno Walter. The tone is slightly drier and there are some traces of strain but it is still good to hear his ring up high and he can scale down and sing softly, a capacity one can’t always take for granted with Heldentenöre, not even those a generation younger than Melchior was at the time.

The opening number, Hildach’s once very popular Der Lenz, isn’t very inviting. It is sung as though it were Siegmund’s Spring Song, at a near-constant fortissimo, glorious no doubt though not without strain and totally unsuitable to the song in question. Youmans’ Without a song is more low-key with several nuances and almost elegant delivery. Dein ist mein ganzes Herz, sung in English, as are most of the titles, is heavy and unsubtle – a far cry from Tauber’s caressing tone. One of the best songs is actually the Danish children’s song (track 5) where he is simple and unaffected and avoids the operatic chest-tones. Bizet’s Agnus Dei, which is an arrangement of the Intermezzo from the Arlésienne suite is straightforward with admirable tone and conviction, while he croons his way through Easy to love, backed up by an angelic chorus.

Swings and roundabouts, as can be seen, and so it continues. Poor Adam’s Cantique de Noël is belted out while The Rosary is more intimate, verging on the sentimental. Bach/Gounod’s Ave Maria is made even more syrupy by having a Hammond organ playing the introduction and Im chambre séparée sounds unidiomatic and heavy sung by a male voice. Go to Elisabeth Schumann for the real thing! Torna a Surriento, sung in Italian, has glow but misses the elegance of the best Italian tenors and he should have been fined for shouting Kern’s beautiful The song is you almost to pieces. Was ist Sylvia?, Schubert’s masterful song, suffers from being sung in English and accompanied by full orchestra but he doesn’t lack insight.

The four opera arias are more his domain but Recondita armonia is sung at too monotonous a forte, whereas in E lucevan le stelle he starts meditatively and then expands to a glowing end. Best of all are the two excerpts from Pagliacci. He recorded Vesti la giubba in the 1920s and there was more sap in the voice by then but unfortunately he sang it in German. Here, in the original Italian, he feels very much inside the role, one feels the pain and he ends the aria with a deeply affecting quiver in the voice but shuns the disfiguring sobs of Gigli or Del Monaco. No, Pagliaccio non son! is a horrifying thriller, sung with enormous intensity and this will presumably be the number I want to return to most often on this disc – unless it be the final song, the Swedish drinking song Helan går. Actually he opens with an introductory recitative and then follows a tribute to “Halvan”; then comes the real treat, a vital and swaggering “Helan går”. And here it might be convenient to insert a short paragraph explaining the exotic – some would say barbaric – Scandinavian drinking traditions.

As Melchior says in his spoken introduction, when Scandinavians drink their aquavit – or ‘snaps’ as it is in Swedish – with their smorgasbord, they are prone to sing, and from this tradition has developed a number of songs, differing from region to region. Each ‘snaps’ has a number, the first one is “Helan” (The Whole), then follows “Halvan” (The Half), “Tersen” (The Third), “Kvarten” (The Fourth), “Kvinten” (The Fifth) and “Sexten” (The Sixth). It goes without saying that when – mostly also if – they reach “Sexten” there are very few members of the party still able to stand up, even less able to sing and if they still manage the texts they will most certainly be muddled. Lauritz Melchior is, wisely, content with “Helan” and “Halvan”, although he reverses the order as I mentioned earlier.

Swings and roundabouts, no doubt, but it is interesting to have this greatest of Wagnerians in off-beat repertoire. His involvement and enthusiasm are never in question. As a bonus those who want a party feeling can always revel in Melchior’s frothy “snapsvisa” and his concluding Skål!

Göran Forsling


 


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