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As expected this latest release from the VRCS is another treasure trove of vocal rarities and a must-buy for all those interested in great singing and the history of classical vocal art.

I am also happy to see a cantorial selection was again included. Moreover there’s a direct link to the world of opera with it  as the Rumanian baritone cantor Mayer Schorr (1856-1913) was Friedrich Schorr’s father. Schorr was one of the first cantors  to make records leaving six sides for Columbia in 1905. The track included is so far also the best transfer of his singing I have heard.

With five out of 21 tracks the great majority of singers on this compilation are of French origin.

Fernand Francell (1880-1966), a French tenor sings Rodolphe’s (Alfredo’s name in the French version) aria “Tout me le dit, cher ange”  (de miei bollenti spiriti) another acoustic recording going back to 1909. The VRCS 2003 CD already contained this recording but with variable and wrong pitch which has been corrected in this transfer. Francell creates a firm character without losing elegance.

Contralto Suzanne Brohly (1882-1943) needs no introduction to admirers of French singers and singing. Her refined rendition of Hahn’s delicate expression of love  “Si mes vers avaient des ailes” was recorded with orchestra in 1922. As far as I know only Melba (1904) and Sembrich (1908) preceded her and the superior Vallin followed six years later with the composer at the piano. 

Odette Le Fontenay (1880-?) is completely unknown to me. French-born she lived and eventually died in the United States. Sprong’s “Yesterday and today” is not really an interesting song but Le Fontenay’s singing is. She is musical with a pleasing upper register, no pinched high notes here!

French baritone Willy Tubiana (1891-1980) made quite a few recordings yet practically nothing except his duets with Vezzani has ever appeared on either vinyl or CD. His sturdy singing of Frère Laurent’s act four aria is in this sense very welcome but also because he phrases with eloquence.

The  Santuzza-Turiddu confrontation as sung by Madeleine Sibille (1895-1984) and Miguel Villabella (1892-1954)  in 1935 is more reminiscent of a meeting on the Place de l’Odéon than a passionate confrontation in the streets of a small Sicilian village. But what singing and excellent enunciation they deliver! Sibille resisting the temptation to be a sulky, tempestuous heroine finds an element of pride in the unlucky woman and Villabella delivers a smooth-voiced, dandified Turiddu. Perhaps too Gallic in approach but it worked for me.

Three artists from the German speaking world are featured as well starting with Austrian contralto Hermine Kittel (1879-1948) who sings an impressive version of Pauline’s aria (Pique Dame) auf Deutsch recorded in 1903. The voice has steel with a potent commanding chest register.

Speaking of an earworm  Irving Berlin’s “For your country and my country”  is engagingly and surprisingly sung by Marchesi student Frances Alda(1879-1952) just one year before the Great War ended.

Russia is represented by a single voice. Vladimir Kastorsky(1871-1948) a Mariinsky and Bolshoi bass sings Gretchaninovs “Over the Steppe” as to the manner born. A kind of voice they don’t make in Russia anymore.

Another gem follows with the act one duet from Hamlet with the Catalan soprano Josefina Huguet (1871-1951) and baritone Francesco Cigada (1878-1966). The duet was not included in the two CD portrait issued in 2003 of the soprano by the Catalan record company Aria and thus a great welcome to those who delight in her singing. An ever greater find is the idiomatic recording of Schubert’s “Sei mir gegrusst” (1913) by Hungarian tenor Vilmos Kertesz (1885-1940). A sort of mystery tenor as not much is known about his life and career.

Another Catalan singer included in this compilation is the Barcelona born baritone and Jean de Reszke student Vicente Ballester (1887-1927) who sings “Marianella Marianella” a sort of third rate “Funiculla Funiculli” trifle recorded three years before he died.

Of the five Americans represented on this CD Dorothy Jardon (1883-1966) is the first. A former star of the Chicago Opera Company she once exclaimed that " to succeed there a voice Is not needed, but one does require a “Pull"

The first and only time I heard her voice was on an LP compilation of the Fortune Gallo’s San Carlo Company where she sings Santuzza. The rendering of Zaza’s act one arioso (1919) on this compilation makes one wonder why she didn’t have a major operatic career as her fine voice recorded extremely well. She spins out phrase after phrase without any effort and at a high intensity level. The booklet wrongly states this is Jardon' s only operatic recording. Following her retirement in 1927 Dorothy Jardon married Captain Harry Oelrichs, son of Charles M. Oelrichs of Newport, and a nephew of Mrs William K. Vanderbilt. Her first husband, Edward Madden died in 1952, leaving her the bulk of his estate. She died in Los Angeles at the age of 83.

Another American singer is Frieda Klink (1899-?) yet another name completely new to me. She is a real contralto with an impressive low register, yet the aluminum-based Lacquer dub (1938) of “Weiche Wotan” has a bathroom echo which disturbs the vocal line with a sort of steam whistle top.

New York-born mezzo soprano Anne Thursfield (1885-1945) whom Herman Klein described as an artist “of infinite taste” displays excellent French enunciation and a more than pleasing voice in Hahn’s “exquisite hour” (recorded in 1926) with Ivor Newton at the piano.   

Poor Argentinian bass Carlo Walter (1872-?) only made seven acoustics recordings. What a loss it is as from the first bar you can hear there’s a major and unique voice at work in Salvator Rosa’s “Di sposa, di padre.” There’s not one single bass today who can boast of the same qualities. No wonder he created Timur in the world premiere of “Turandot” in 1926.

Scandinavia had other talented tenors besides Bjorling, Melchior , Rosvaenge, Lindi, Gedda etc. Simon Edvardsen (1892-1980) was one of them. Though born in Norway his 1928 recording of the act one dramatic tenor aria from Zandonai’s “Cavalieri di Ekebù” is perhaps appropriately sung in Swedish as the story is set in the hinterlands of Sweden.

Perhaps the last three tracks on the Cd are the least interesting selections unless one is a die-hard fan of the singers involved. Tito Schipa can be heard in an unpublished track of Federico’s lament (1927). But why include it as there are already six other versions available by Schipa? The first one was recorded in 1926 and the last one in 1962. Notwithstanding the singing is vintage Schipa.

The same objection applies to Eleanor Steber who (beautifully) sings an English version of Hanna Glawari’s “Viljalied” (1946); however more and equally lovely  Steber versions of the Lehar hit are available elsewhere.

I have never understood the obsession, mainly Anglo-Saxon but not exclusively - critics have with Hans Hotter (1909-2003) and in particular with his 4 “Winterreise” recordings. Compatriot Gottlob Frick, who delivers a steadier more resonant tone and without the Hotter wobble, is to my ears a superior voice; and give me Kipnis over Hotter any day in the Lied repertoire. The VRCS obviously doesn’t agree and they included an unpublished 1942 recording of Schubert’s “Der Lindenbaum.” Thus we get a fifth version by the same singer of the same song and equally as dull. Just give Richard Tauber (and Misha Spoliansky) a try in the same song and maybe you’ll agree.

More interesting is Lotte Lehman’s (1888-1976) rendering of Beethoven’s “In questa tomba oscura”  a recording taken from a 1945 Town Hall recital. The voice is past its prime but it’s obvious she worked hard on making the song her “own.” As far as I can remember this is the first time I have heard her sing in Italian and her Italian is almost as good as it can be. Only twice you discern her German origin and sometimes she rolls her r’s a bit too much and in the wrong place. She also doesn’t shy away from using some chest voice and the lower tessitura of the song makes her singing “easier” enabling her to show that unique warm, instantly recognizable timbre she amazingly still possessed six years before she retired.

The included booklet contains photos of all the singers and detailed biographies.

Rudi van den Bulck, February 2016