The McCormack Edition - Volume 9
Victor Talking Machine Company Recordings (1920-1923)
see end of review for track listing
John McCormack (tenor)
Fritz Kreisler (violin) (tracks 6-9
rec. 1920-23, Camden, New Jersey, USA. ADD
Not for sale in the USA.
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110385 [77:26]

By 1920 John McCormack had already, probably wisely, abandoned his operatic career as long ago as 1913 in order to preserve his light voice and concentrate on concert recitals. He retained a few operatic items such the celebrated account here of “O Sleep!”. However, for the most part he sang a judicious mixture of traditional and popular ballads, hymns, art songs and Lieder, all of which are represented here. The bulk of them would come under the category of what McCormack ironically and defensively referred to as “muck” when defending himself against high-brow critics who alluded slightingly to his populist repertoire.
It has to be said that even the most dedicated admirer of McCormack’s silvery, liquid tenor might tire after nearly eighty minutes of a programme featuring a preponderance of what some might call the slightest of ditties. They are elevated by the unearthly beauty of his singing and the sincere, yet roguish, charm of his brogue. I can never hear either the Irish songs or even the Handel aria sung by anyone else without bringing to mind the peculiar purity of McCormack’s pronunciation of “your” as “yoor”. Nor, for that matter, can anyone else sing “My wandering love” as McCormack does here, with its effortless, unearthly floated melismata over six, extended, four- beat measures. He then complements that vocal feat with a perfectly poised concluding, A-flat on “restore”. You have no time to recover from that before, in track three, you hear another example of McCormack’s consummate art in his elegantly restrained account of Schumann’s “The Singer’s Consolation”. I would argue that this recital is worth the money for those tracks alone. There is undoubtedly something of a wrench when we segue from “the brown little lad with a freckled nose” (“nawse” to rhyme with “rawse”) in track 1 to the Handel, the Schumann and then back to “The Next Market Day” complete with authentic “Oirish” accent. It’s the same voice with the same pellucid diction and the same plangent delicacy of tone.
For all that much of this disc is dedicated to sentimental ballads, in addition to the Handel and Schumann we have three passionate, soulful Rachmaninov songs. In two of these, McCormack is partnered by the sweet-toned Fritz Kreisler who provides a haunting violin obbligato. All the singing here is stellar: time and again, the tenor’s vocalism is a thing of wonder. The pianissimo concluding B-flat in “Since You Went Away” or the floated As in his signature-tune “I Hear You Calling Me” are both simply breathtaking. It is too easy from our modern perspective to deride the sentimentality of “In that dear little town in the ould County Down” or “Mother in Ireland” but our own popular culture is hardly innocent of mawkishness and McCormack knew his market. To provide some dignity and balance, we have a couple of overtly pious hymns grandly sung to stately tunes and Sullivan’s famous “The Lost Chord”, de rigueur for all singers of any note of that era, including Caruso and Dame Clara Butt; McCormack need not fear comparison with their very different versions.
The transfers by Ward Marston are exemplary; the sound gives rise to no listening fatigue . As usual, no texts are provided but such is the clarity of McCormack’s diction you don’t need them. There is a long and informative essay by John Scarry. I would suggest avoiding both auditory indigestion and saccharine overload by dipping into and sampling this compilation: it contains gems sung by a voice which for sheer quality in its category can only be spoken of in the same breath as Schipa, Vinogradov and Wunderlich.

Ralph Moore

Reviews of other McCormack Edition releases

Gems sung by a voice which for sheer quality can only be spoken of in the same breath as Schipa, Vinogradov and Wunderlich.

Track listing
WIGGERS The Barefoot Trail [2:46]
HANDEL Semele: O Sleep! Why Dost Thou Leave Me? [3:25]
SCHUMANN The Singer’s Consolation [2:19]
TRAD arr. HUGHES The Next Market Day [1:07]
TRAD arr. HUGHES A Ballynure Ballad [1:31]
RACHMANINOV When Night Descends and [3:00]
RACHMANINOV O Cease Thy Singing, Maiden Fair [3:36]
KRAMER The Last Hour [2:44]
JOHNSON Since You Went Away [2:51]
MARSHALL I Hear You Calling Me [3:40]
HIRSCH The O’Brien Girl: Learn to Smile [3:20]
SANDERS Little Town in the Ould County Down [3:26]
ROBLEDO Three O’Clock in the Morning [2:54]
KAHN & LYMAN Mother in Ireland [3:10]
SIMONS Her Family Tree: Remember the Rose [2:48]
SULLIVAN The Lost Chord [4:16]
BARNBY Jesus, My Lord, My God, My All [3:08]
NICHOLLS The Kingdom Within Your Eyes [2:39]
MERIKANTO A Fairy Story By The Fire [2:12]
RACHMANINOV To the Children [3:12]
WHITEMAN & GROFÉ Wonderful One [2:34]
OPENSHAW Love Sends a Little Gift of Roses [2:43]
AYER Where the Rainbow Ends [3:08]
AYER Somewhere in the World [2:59]
LOOKWOOD Take a Look at Molly [2:42]
SQUIRE Dream Once Again [2:48]
DICKSON Thanks be to God [2:25]