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8.110265 - GIGLI, Beniamino: Gigli Edition, Vol. 4: Camden and New York Recordings (1926-1927)
Beniamino Gigli (1890-1957)
The Gigli Edition Vol. 4 • Camden and New York Recordings 1926-27
With Victor’s introduction of the electric process in 1925, the reproduction of voices and, particularly, of orchestral accompaniments improved markedly. As one would expect, there was an upsurge in record production as the new method found an eager public. The new system produced both an expansion of repertory and a desire to provide new, improved versions of some of the old acoustic best-sellers.
Gigli’s three duets with Titta Ruffo remained unissued for a number of years. The Caruso-Scotti performance of Solenne in quest’ora from La forza del destino had been a popular item in the Victor list ever since it first came out in 1906, so this was a prime opportunity for a new electric version. Ruffo had a great name, but at 49 he was in regrettable shape after a long and glorious career, winning fame through a profligate expenditure of his vocal capital. As Carlo, he is inexact; as Marcello, gruff, and as Barnaba, properly menacing if not too steady and incapable of spinning out a line. On the other hand, Gigli is admirable in all three. He shapes the arch of Or muoio tranquillo in the Forza duet with real finesse; the vulnerability of the wounded Alvaro is convincingly suggested. His wry badinage at the beginning of the Bohème duet is full of character, and his use of rubato in the O Mimì, tu più non torni section almost makes one purr with pleasure. In the Gioconda confrontation with Ruffo, he sounds a bit out of sorts until he can get his teeth into the juicy melody near the end.
The following year these three duets were remade, this time with the tenor partnered by De Luca. An Italian version of the Act 1 Pearl Fishers duet was also sung by the pair to fill two double-sided 78s. Although a year older than Ruffo, De Luca had a keen sense of vocal proportion, unlike his injudicious predecessor in these numbers; indeed De Luca could still sing creditably into his seventh decade. To contrast his singing of the phrases beginning Amasti un dì una vergine in the Gioconda duet (this track will be on Volume 5) with Ruffo’s is to set vocal art against bluff. The fine-tuned performances of the Bohème and Forza numbers are testimony to the two singers’ frequent collaborations at the Met.
Electric replacements of arias earlier recorded acoustically were another occupation of Gigli’s during his visits to the studios in these years. He remade the two Mefistofele arias, managing a smoother, more ardent Dai campi than the 1921 account; I prefer the older, more inward Giunto sul passo estremo, although the newer one is well sung. He added a new and exhilarating Recondita armonia, which would be coupled with Donna non vidi mai from Manon Lescaut; here he captures the sense of a rather serious young man reduced to a heap by a pretty girl.
As had been his practice since he began recording for Victor, Gigli turned again to the more popular Italian songs. The electric version of Drigo’s Serenade is more spacious than in its earlier manifestation; here the linked phrases that lead into the refrain are irresistible, and the little coda reveals how well integrated was this voice. De Crescenzo’s Rondine al nido was practically a staple of Gigli’s concert programmes. This poignant song he sings with controlled feeling, and the closing Tu sei fuggita, e non torni più is moving indeed. Torna, amore begins quietly and builds up to quite a climax with Gigli’s secure top much in evidence.
In closing, I find it fitting to quote Max de Schauensee’s estimate of Gigli, written in 1965: ‘Some of the more fastidious critics correctly cited stylistic lapses and emotional excesses ... But nobody ever made the mistake of questioning the unrivaled beauty of Gigli’s voice, which ultimately swept everything before it. Gigli died in Rome, after a brief illness, on 30th November 1957. One is on safe ground when stating that he has not been replaced.’
Adapted from notes by William Ashbrook
The present volume is the fourth in a series devoted to Beniamino Gigli’s “singles” - his song and aria recordings not issued as part of complete opera sets. The aim of the series is to include every Gigli recording released at the time, as well as every published alternative take and, wherever available, unpublished takes. The sides here are presented in the order in which they were recorded, which accounts for separating the two introspective Mefistofele arias with a rousing Neapolitan song, here sung in Italian.
The selections on the current volume were originally issued in 1996 as part of Romophone 82004-2 (“Beniamino Gigli - The Complete Victor Recordings, Volume II: 1926-28”). In remastering my original transfers, I have tried to remove some of the clicks and pops that remained (both manually via digital editing and through the use of the CEDAR declicking module) and have made adjustments to the equalization of each track.
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