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Availability
CD: Dutton

Cavalcade of English Singers - Volume 1
Walter Widdop (tenor) Trevor Anthony (bass) Isobel Baillie (soprano) Norman Allin (bass) Dora Labette (soprano) Clara Butt (contralto) Edith Furmedge (mezzo-soprano) Evelyn Scotney (soprano)
see end of review for performance details
rec. 1925-48
DUTTON CDBP 9797 [71:48]

 

Availability
CD: Dutton

 

Cavalcade of English Singers - Volume 2
Norman Allin, Miriam Licette (soprano) and Dennis Noble, Frank Mullings (tenor) Heddle Nash (tenor) Joseph Hislop (tenor) Clara Serena
see end of review for performance details
rec. 1916-31
DUTTON CDBP 9802 [75:20]
 
Experience Classicsonline


This is a roll-call of some of the great and good British singers of the first half of the twentieth century in recordings ranging from early - the Furmedge sides aren’t dated - to 1948. Some of the names are very familiar - Butt, Baillie, Widdop - whilst others are much less so: Scotney, Furmedge, Anthony. The theme is operatic and oratorio, predominantly the latter. Another distinguishing feature is the frequently ad hoc nature of the orchestral backing - usually anonymous bands directed by competent directors.
 
Volume 1
Widdop’s Handel is one of the finest around. This heldentenor had the gift of real style in oratorio. His recordings of Handel in fact pre-date those of his sort-of rival, Heddle Nash, and are every bit as effective, if not, at some moments, more so, given the greater heft in Widdop’s armoury, and the stronger placement of his lower register. This confident, masculine singing is a real tonic in Acis and in the Jeptha extract it exemplifies the British Oratorio tradition at something near its zenith. His plangency and pathos belie his Wagnerian reputation. This is wonderful singing, and one returns to him again and again with no loss of admiration, though in this transfer the voice seems fractionally lighter than I’m accustomed to hearing.
 
Trevor Anthony essays Timotheus in stout, beefy fashion accompanied by Malcolm Sargent, in the only post-war recording, made in 1948. The voice doesn’t have the amplitude of Malcolm McEachern, who famously recorded this on a Vocalion in the early 1920s, but the ‘ghastly band’ referred to in the B section of the aria was not present in 1948, given Malcolm Sargent’s direction - whilst it assuredly was back in somewhat chaotic studio circumstances in 1924. Isobel Baillie’s remarkably modern-sounding voice can be heard in the double-sided The Blessed Virgin’s Expostulation, as it was invariably known: pure, striking, luminous and accompanied by Arnold Goldsbrough at the height of the war, in 1941.
 
I’ve tried very hard over many years to like Norman Allin, but I just can’t manage it. He’s also to be heard in volume two of this series. He sounds, to me, as lugubrious as ever in his two outings. Dora Labette shared something of Baillie’s purity of tone, though not that remarkable sustained intensity that came with it. Nevertheless she was an admirable singer, heard here in Bishop and Haydn; and she has that rather rare commodity; real charm. We journey backwards with the next two singers. Clara Butt can be heard in her 1929 recordings. Obviously she was long past her (remarkable) best - for which one needs the discs made many years earlier. Heavier, indeed sometimes marmoreal now, this is still noble and valiant. Edith Furmedge can be heard in Mendelssohn and Gluck, where the transfers are too cloudy. She was a solid mezzo, who sang on the abridged Joe Batten recording of The Dream of Gerontius [Dutton CDLX7044]. Finally there’s Evelyn Scotney, whose 1926 discs reveal a most attractive singer, though I’m not so sure about her pitching.
 
This is another good selection in Dutton’s familiar style. The transfers are smooth and attractive, though as so often I find them too airless. No notes.
 
Volume 2
This is the second in the ‘Cavalcade’ series from Dutton, a roster of stalwart British singers whose names resonate down the ages (to those in the know), or are unknowns to those not versed in singers of this generation from Britain. Talking of which, Joseph Hislop, of whom more in a moment, would be getting hot under his sporran to find himself described as an ‘English’ singer.
 
Things actually begin with a real English bass, Norman Allin. As I’ve admitted before, I don’t ‘get’ Allin. In fact the pitching here seems to make him even more lugubrious than usual. It’s a shame, as the intrinsic roundness and depth of the voice is good. I just don’t recall him singing anything really mobile. He’s followed by the charming duo of Miriam Licette and Dennis Noble, a far more sprightly couple altogether. The translation is frightfully English, but then things were sung in the vernacular so one can hardly blame the singers. They make a very plausible pairing indeed in their Rossini. We head to the stygian depths of 1916 for Frank Mullings, one of the most remarkable and unshackled of all British tenors. His Gounod doesn’t showcase the more truculent side of his singing, which never beautiful in itself, is almost always highly communicative.
 
Hislop next in a well known Wagnerian pairing presided over by the knowing Barbirolli. It was made in 1929. Scottish birth aside, one would never put Hislop above Walter Widdop as a British Wagnerian. Some people rather dislike his voice in fact, a view I’ve never shared. It’s a personable, useful bit of singing. The rest of the disc is given over to recorded extracts from William Wallace’s Maritana. This has been reissued before but makes a useful entry here, given that it includes Licette, Nash, Noble and also Clara Serena in the 1931 highlights set presided over by Clarence Raybould. Licette has the charm for Of fairy wand had I the power - though I think her very best singing comes in Scenes that are brightest - and Noble has the masculine presence for it too. Nash has the youthful ardour for Yes! Let me like a soldier fall which is the one piece from Maritana that’s been extracted for recital reissues devoted to the tenor. Clara Serena is stalwart but has pitching problems.
 
An interesting disc then, that presents individual singers then corrals some of them in that excerpted 1931 production. The transfers are typical Dutton - very clean and smooth - I like it less so, with more air. The notes consist of the plot of Maritana - useful, I suppose, for those unfamiliar with it. I know this is a lower price release, but artist biographies would have been better, unless Dutton’s rationale is that they’re preaching to the converted.
 
Jonathan Woolf

Performance details
Volume 1

Georg Frideric HANDEL (1685-1750)
Acis and Galatea - Love sounds the alarm [4:30]; Love in her eyes sits playing [4:52]
Jephtha - Deeper and deeper still [4:12]; Waft her angels [4:40]
Walter Widdop (tenor) with orchestras conducted by Lawrance Collingwood, and George W Byng, rec. 1925-30
Alexander’s Feast - Revenge! Timotheus cries [6:22]
Trevor Anthony (bass)/LSO/Malcolm Sargent, rec. 1948
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
The Blessed Virgin’s Expostulation [7:48]
Isobel Baillie (soprano); Arnold Goldsbrough (organ), rec. 1941
The Tempest - See! the heavens smile [3:49]; Arise, ye subterranean winds [3:31]
Norman Allin (bass) with orchestras conducted by Robert Ainsworth and Charles Prentice, rec. 1929
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
The Creation - With verdure clad [4:23]
Henry BISHOP (1786-1855)
Should he upbraid [4:06]
Dora Labette (soprano) with orchestra, rec. 1932
Georg Frideric HANDEL
Messiah - He shall feed his flock [3:44]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Elijah - O rest in the Lord [3:27]
Clara Butt (contralto) with orchestra/Stanford Robinson, rec. 1929
Felix MENDELSSOHN
St. Paul - But the Lord is mindful [3:27]
Christoph Willibald von GLUCK (1714-1787)
Orfeo ed Euridice - Che farò [4:20]
Edith Furmedge (mezzo-soprano) with orchestra, undated
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1759-1795)
Don Giovanni - Mi tradi quell’ alma ingrate [3:27]; Non mi dir [4:11]
Evelyn Scotney (soprano) with orchestra/George W Byng, rec. 1926

Volume 2
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1759-1795)
The Magic Flute - O Isis and Osiris [3:45]; Within this hallowed dwelling [4:25]
Norman Allin with orchestra/Lawrence Collingwood, rec. 1926
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
The Barber of Seville - Can it be? Dare I believe thee? [5:22]
Miriam Licette (soprano) and Dennis Noble/orchestra/Clarence Raybould, rec. 1927
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
The Queen of Sheba - Lend me your aid [6:57]
Frank Mullings (tenor) with orchestra, rec, 1916
Giacomo MEYERBEER (1791-1864)
L’Africana “O paradise”
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
L’elisir d’amore “Down her soft cheek a pearly tear”
Heddle Nash (tenor) with Orchestra conducted by Hamilton Harty and Lawrence Collingwood, recorded 1926
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Lohengrin “In distant lands” narration
Die Meistersinger “Morning was gleaming” Prize song
Joseph Hislop (tenor) with orchestra/John Barbirolli, recorded 1929
William WALLACE (1812-1865)
Highlights from Maritana
’tis the harp in the air [3:13]; The Angelus [3:06]; Of fairy wand had I the power [3:28]; Pretty Gitana 3:09]; Alas! Those chimes [3:15]; Turn on, old time [3:13]; Yes! Let me like a soldier fall [2:47]; In happy moments day by day [2:40]; There is a flower that bloometh [3:14]; Scenes that are brightest [3:00]; Sainted mother [3:25];
Finale (Act II): What mystery? [3:28]
Miriam Licette, Clara Serena, Heddle Nash and Dennis Noble/Orchestra and Grand Opera Company/Clarence Raybould, recorded 1931

 

 


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