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The Golden Age of the Gramophone – The 42 Best Loved Popular Classical Recordings 1907-1945
RETROSPECTIVE RTS 4164 [78:11 +78:32]

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CD 1
1. Vesti La Giubba (Enrico Caruso) [3:19]
2. Lo, Here The Gentle Lark (Amelita Galli-Curci) [3:49]
3. The Swan (Pablo Casals) [2:42]
4. The Floral Dance (Peter Dawson) [3:09]
5. Liebesfreud (Fritz Kreisler) [3:05]
6. The Song Of The Flea (Feodor Chaliapin) [2:51]
7. Rondo Alla Turca (Wanda Landowska) [2:18]
8. O For The Wings Of A Dove (Master Ernest Lough) [7:57]
9. Recuerdos De La Alhambra (Andrés Segovia) [3:29]
10. I Hear You Calling Me (John McCormack) [3:37]
11. Rhapsody In Blue (George Gershwin) [9:10]
12. Toreador's Song (Lawrence Tibbett) [4:25]
13. Country Gardens (Percy Grainger) [1:48]
14. Gypsy Rondo (Cortot, Thibaud and Casals) [3:12]
15. Nymphs And Shepherds (Manchester Children's Choir) [3:18]
16. Hansel and Gretel Dance Duet (Manchester Children's Choir) [3:13]
17. Prelude In C Sharp Minor (Sergey Rachmaninov) [3:35]
18. Softly Awakes My Heart (Marian Anderson) [4:55]
19. Jesu, Joy Of Man's Desiring (Myra Hess) [3:06]
20. Clavelitos (Conchita Supervía) [2:10]
21. Hora Staccato (Jascha Heifetz) [2:06]
CD 2
1. La Traviata, Prelude To Act 1 (Arturo Toscanini) [3:38]
2. Die Meistersinger, The Prize Song (Lauritz Melchior) [3:54]
3. Chopin, Waltz In C Sharp Minor (Alfred Cortot) [3:05]
4. Your Tiny Hand Is Frozen (Beniamino Gigli) [4:20]
5. Salut D'amour (Sir Edward Elgar) [3:10]
6. Nuns' Chorus (Anni Frind) [3:50]
7. Clair De Lune (Walter Gieseking) [4:12]
8. Ol' Man River (Paul Robeson) [4:15]
9. Für Elise (Artur Schnabel) [3:02]
10. The Fair Maid Of Perth, Serenade (Heddle Nash) [4:30]
11. Chopin, Polonaise In A Flat (Arthur Rubinstein) [6:21]
12. Der Rosenkavalier, Final Trio (Lehmann, Schumann and Olszewska) [4:09]
13. By The Sleepy Lagoon (Eric Coates) [4:39]
14. You Are My Heart's Delight (Richard Tauber) [3:21]
15. La Calinda (Sir Thomas Beecham) [3:33]
16. Après Un Rêve (Dame Maggie Teyte) [2:38]
17. Rustle Of Spring (Eileen Joyce) [2:15]
18. O My Beloved Father (Dame Joan Hammond) [2:23]
19. Mozart, Rondo Horn Concerto No.4 (Dennis Brain) [3:27]
20. All In The April Evening (Glasgow Orpheus Choir) [3:35]
21. Nessun Dorma! (Jussi Björling) [3:21]

 
Compilation discs such as this one should probably not be judged too harshly when they claim ‘best loved’ status for the 42 pieces enshrined in their jewel case. There’s a product to sell and the market place is crowded. Attractive booklet and period artefacts doubtless help the nostalgic angle somewhat; gramophones, steel needles, a bulging, rather goitrous 78 album with protruding discs. And doubtless we needn’t get too picky about what’s here, and what isn’t.
 
What you’re getting are two well filled discs, neatly annotated. The period covered is just shy of forty years, so we go from acoustic to electric and all in mono, and we cover singers, instrumentalists, choirs and conductors. A few highlights will alight on the salient preoccupations. With male singers we have the canonic Caruso, Dawson doing his Floral Dance (always better heard than anticipated with dread), McCormack singing I Hear You Calling Me rather than anything Irish, Tibbett in Toreador mode, and Marian Anderson singing Softly Awakes. I doubt many will be familiar with Supervia’s Clavelitos – this is a bit of a wacky one in the context. The roster also includes the eminent Wagnerianism of Melchior, the inevitable Gigli, Robeson getting on down with Old Man River, and for Anglo-Saxons on home turf Heddle Nash’s Fair Maid of Perth aria. The trio from Rosenkavalier derives from that early recording under Heger, Tauber is his inimitable self in the crushingly obvious You Are My Heart’s Delight; Maggie Teyte is heard in Après un rêve – interesting choice; surely this wasn’t a vast seller? Björling and Hammond are here, so too the boy soprano Ernest Lough and the Glasgow Orpheus Choir.
 
Of string players we hear Casals essaying The Swan, Kreisler disporting Kreisleresquely, Heifetz gliding through his Dinicu arrangement and the Thibaud-Casals-Cortot trio dusting off the Gypsy Rondo. Pianophiles can be assured that composer-executants Rachmaninoff, Grainger and Gershwin (the nine minute Rhapsody in Blue abridgement with Whiteman) are here. Other elite members of the ivory guild are Cortot, Schnabel (Für Elise), Rubinstein’s Chopin, and Eileen Joyce Rustling in Spring. Landowska’s eminently butch Rondo alla turca seldom fails. Two conductors are flagged; Toscanini and Beecham (Verdi and Delius respectively). Elgar is present as well, conducting his Salut d’amour, and Eric Coates should not be overlooked. Elite ‘other’ instrumentalists include the crème de la crème of their craft: Segovia and Brain.
 
This would all be all right, I suppose, as a rather loose snapshot of some of the best-selling discs of the time. I can’t resist poking fun at the annotator who claims that ‘almost every gramophone owner’ would have bought a copy of Anni Frind’s Nuns’ chorus disc; Oh no they wouldn’t.
 
The transfers however are the Achilles Heel of this release. They are badly over-processed and treble starved. This is another example of a crusade against shellac noise; the Casals transfer is one of the worst offenders but I’m afraid it’s an endemic problem.
 
If you can live with this, the selection is decent enough.
 
Jonathan Woolf
 
 


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