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The McCormack Edition Volume 6: 1915-16 Acoustic Recordings
see end of review for track listing
John McCormack (tenor), Emil Keneke (trumpet (1, 25), Fritz Kreisler (violin) (10-13), Male Chorus (7, 8), Ludwig Schwab (piano) (12, 13), Orchestra/Walter B. Rogers (all except 12, 13)
rec. Victor Talking Machine Company, Camden, NJ, 30 March 1915 – 9 May 1916
Audio Restoration: Ward Marston
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.111316 [78:17]
Experience Classicsonline


Listening to John McCormack’s recordings chronologically takes a great deal of will-power. So much of his repertoire was made up of sentimental songs and ballads of a kind that makes at least this listener wish for something more substantial once in a while. It is true that good singing and expressive delivery can make even the most banal song seem better than it really is. Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra were such singers and McCormack also had the ability to ennoble his material through his golden tone and power of insight. And even though there may be songs one doesn’t exactly long to hear again for the musical quality there are still things to admire from the point of view of pure singing: the perfect line, the excellent diction or the sensitive turn of a phrase. Even though to a certain extent he uses portamento when moving from one note to the next he does it so discreetly that he never sentimentalises an already sentimental song. That he sometimes expresses sentimental feelings is another matter and that is also one of the secrets of his great popularity.
 
There is no need to comment on every item on this disc but some titles should be pointed out. The lyric middle section of The Trumpeter is beautiful. In Balfe’s setting of Tennyson’s Come into the Garden, Maud, McCormack demonstrated his golden tone and the beautiful Evening Song with harp accompaniment has an exquisite final soft note. The Vacant Chair, a song written during the American Civil War, reminds us that when it was recorded the last day of  March 1915, the world was already half a year into The Great War and many vacant chairs were to be found around the world. It is also remarkable for the final note, which is a D flat above high C and is the highest note McCormack ever recorded.
 
The collaboration between McCormack and Fritz Kreisler is represented here in four titles. The rapport between the two musicians is indeed remarkable. In Moszkowski’s Serenata Kreisler’s warm tone is at once recognizable. His double stops are perfect in the seemingly improvised interlude and after McCormack’s cadenza their duet is lovely. Carmé is sung in Italian and is one of the gems here.
 
Kreisler is also represented as composer with his lollipop The Old Refrain, which evokes memories of his own recording of the piece. The final note is superb. Tosti’s Parted is sung with glow and beautiful legato but the real masterpiece is the only opera item on the disc and the last opera aria McCormack ever recorded – at least acoustically: Mozart’s Il mio tesoro from Don Giovanni. It has long been regarded as the benchmark reading and is a real textbook version: the legato, the perfect runs, the long unbroken phrases and the nuances. ‘This record is impeccable”, a German critic once said and I must agree. For those who don’t have this recording the disc is more than worth the price for this piece alone. It is also interesting to note that he sings the next song, The Kerry Dance, with the same care for detail and tone as for the Mozart aria. McCormack took all the music he recorded seriously.
 
Ward Marston’s restorations draw out as much information from these more than 90-year-old records as is possible and those who are still sceptical about acoustic recordings should give this disc a try – not least for the sake of Il mio tesoro. John Scarry’s liner-notes are of great help to realise the importance of some of the other numbers.
 
Göran Forsling

Naxos Historical themed review pages

Track listing
J. Airlie DIX (18??-1911)
1. The Trumpeter [3:41]
Michael W. BALFE (1808 – 1870)
2. Come Into the Garden, Maud [4:00]
Henry Kimball HADLEY (1871 – 1937)
3. Evening Song, Op. 53, No. 3 [2:42]
Oley SPEAKS (1874 – 1948)
4. Morning [2:21]
Old Scottish Air:
5. Turn Ye to Me [3:48]
Ethelbert NEVIN (1862 – 1901)
6. The Rosary [2:07]
Trad. (arr. Wade)
7. Adeste Fideles [4:01]
George Frederick ROOT (1820 – 1895)
8. The Vacant Chair [3:06]
Edwin SCHNEIDER (? - ?)
9. When the Dew is Falling [2:35]
Moritz MOSZKOWSKI (1854 – 1925)
10. Serenata, Op. 15, No. 1 [2:43]
Trad. (arr. DeCurtis):
11. Carmé [3:19]
Erik MEYER-HELMUND (1861 – 1932)
12. Flirtation [2:15]
Carl BÖHM (1844 – 1920)
13. Still as the Night, Op. 326, No. 27 [2:22]
Eugene COWLES (1860 – 1948)
14. Forgotten (A Love Song of Poland) [3:22]
Godfrey NUTTING (? - ?)
15. Sing, Sing, Birds on the Wing [3:29]
Old Dutch Air (arr. Hoffmann):
16. God’s Hand [2:20]
Ernest R. BALL (? - ?)
17. A Little Bit of Heaven [3:17]
Paolo TOSTI (1846 – 1916)
18. Venetian Song [3:27]
Fritz KREISLER (1875 – 1962)
19. The Old Refrain [3:24]
Paolo TOSTI
20. Parted [3:32]
Anton STRELEZKI (? - ?)
21. Dreams [3:09]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 – 1791)
Don Giovanni, K527:
22. Il mio tesoro [4:15]
James L. MOLLOY (1837 – 1909)
23. The Kerry Dance [4:11]
Edwin SCHNEIDER
24. Your Eyes [2:01]
Ethelbert NEVIN
25. Little Boy Blue [2:50]

 


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