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Sound Samples and Downloads

Alma Gluck
rec. 1911-1917.

Experience Classicsonline

Gustave CHARPENTIER (1860-1956)
1. Depuis le jour [4:33]
Benjamin GODARD (1849-1895)
2. Cachés dans cet asile (Berceuse) [4 :43]
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
3. Je dis que rien ne m’épouvante (Micaëla’s aria) [4 :40]
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
4. Élégie* [3 :15]
Charles-Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Le timbre d’argent
5. Le bonheur est chose légère* [2 :48]
Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1784)
Hippolyte et Aricie
6. Rossignols amoureux [4:18]
Reynaldo HAHN (1874-1947)
7. L’heure exquise [2:41]
Henry BISHOP (1786-1855)
8. Lo! Here the gentle lark [2:58]
Robert JOHNSON (c. 1583 – c. 1634)
9. Have you seen but a whyte lillie grow? [2:00]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
10. Care selve (sung in English) [4:11]
11. Angels ever bright and fair [4:39]
Engelbert HUMPERDINCK (1854-1921)
Hänsel und Gretel
12. Süsse, lieber Süsse # [4:20]
Carl LOEWE (1796-1869) arr. Ersch
13. War schöner als der schönste Tag [2:58]
Bedrich SMETANA (1824-1884)
14. Bohemian Cradle Song (sung in English) [3:25]
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
La Bohème
15. Donde lieta usci (Addio di Mimi) [3 :10]
16. Quando men vo soletta [2 :26]
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835)
La sonnambula
17. Ah! non credea mirarti [4:04]
Paolo TOSTI (1846-1916)
18. La serenata [3:05]
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
Snow Maiden
19. Gathering Berries (sung in English) [3:10]
20. Song of the Shepherd Lehl (sung in English) [3:16]
21. Chanson Hindoue (sung in French) [2:52]
The Tsar’s Bride
22. Liuba’s Air (sung in German) [3:30]
Alma Gluck (soprano)
Efrem Zimbalist (violin)*
Louise Homer (contralto) #

There are several parallels between the voices and careers of Alma Gluck (1882-1938) and John McCormack. Both possessed voices of the utmost purity, capable of seamless legato and apparently endless reserves of breath. Both retired early from the operatic stage to concentrate on concert performances and recording. Both were accused of peddling “muck”, (to borrow McCormack’s ironic choice of word) in that they invariably included in their programmes songs of blatantly populist appeal alongside classical items. As a result, both belong to that category of singer whose popularity with the public was promulgated through sales of gramophone records in the infancy of the medium, during the first two decades of the twentieth century. Gluck became Victor’s best-selling female recording artist, her sales exceeded only by McCormack and Caruso. Gluck, however, did not have anything like so long a career as McCormack, ceasing all public performance after an unsuccessful return to the concert platform in 1924. She died at only 56 in 1938, just before McCormack came out of retirement for the war effort.
I well remember the first time I heard Gluck’s voice, singing in English in her celebrated recording, included here, of “Care Selve” from Handel’s “Ariodante”. I was immediately struck by the instrumental, almost otherworldly, timbre. This surely, was how an angel sounds. Additionally, Gluck had by the time of this recording developed greater resonance in her lower voice to enhance emotional intensity and complement her ethereal top notes. It forms a perfect complementary companion to McCormack’s equally mesmerising recording of the same aria. Victor never brought them together to record and as far as I know they never sang together on stage – but what a treat it would have been to hear her singing Mimi to his Rodolfo in their youthful prime while both were still singing opera.

Those floated pianissimi in the opening track, Charpentier’s “Depuis le jour” give instant indication of her vocal security. The rather piping upper and chesty lower registers can initially sound odd to a modern listener but such vocal characteristics are shared by many of the great sopranos of her era such as Melba or Galli-Curci and are the traits of a rock-solid technique whereby both registers are properly developed and integrated – indeed, no singer has ever had better integration between the two registers or more flawless production.
How I wish more modern Micaëlas had her charm and security or such steadiness in the middle of the voice as she evinces in”L’heure exquise”. She seems equally at home in the art-songs or the operatic arias which conclude this generous anthology. She had the ideal line for Bellini but also a sympathy with Rimsky-Korsakov’s folksier idiom; the disc concludes with a poised, moving rendition of Liuba’s a capella aria in German, wonderfully understated – the A flats just threads of tone, hanging in space.
Two important partnerships are reflected in the selection of tracks here: her collaborations with violinist Efrem Zimbalist, who became her second husband, and with the great American contralto Louise Homer. The latter joins her not in the expected big operatic number but a delightfully high-spirited rendition of the duet “Süsse, lieber Süsse” from Hänsel und Gretel; the singers’ peerless vocalism punctuated by insouciant giggles is a joy to listen to, elevating what is little more than a jolly ditty to high art.
The breadth of Gluck’s repertoire is apparent from this disc: Handel, Rimsky-Korsakov, Puccini, Bellini, Bizet, Rameau, Charpentier and a number of favourite song-writers such as Tosti, Hahn and Henry Bishop. Gluck sings in four languages; a summary of each track is provided but no libretto. A favourite recording of many fans and the artist herself is Hahn’s “L’heure exquise”; Nigel Douglas’s authoritative and elegantly written note ends with the poignant anecdote of her daughter who discovered Gluck sobbing while listening to this recording long after her voice had vanished.
(There are misprints in notes for tracks 2, 4 and 9, corrected above.)

Ralph Moore



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