About this Recording
8.110270 - GIGLI, Beniamino: Gigli Edition, Vol. 9: Berlin, Milan and London Recordings (1936-1938)

Beniamino Gigli (1890-1957)
The Gigli Edition Vol. 9 • Berlin, Milan and London Recordings 1936-38

By 1936 Gigli was in his mid-forties and what may be termed his third period, vocally speaking. The tone was as golden as ever, and had, if anything, gained in strength while remaining as flexible as ever. As far as his career was concerned, he was at the zenith of his popularity, acclaimed not only in the opera house but as a singing-actor in a number of charming films (the first was made in 1935, both as German and an Italian version), in which his pleasing if ingenuous character was skilfully used for sentimental purposes. As important as these were his many appearances throughout Italy and abroad in concerts. One chapter in his autobiography is entitled “The World is my Audience” and he spoke no more than the truth. Another, covering the period recalled on this CD, was headed “Here, There and Everywhere” and that was just as true. In it he recalls concerts in Germany where he was specially feted, Vienna, Budapest, London, Copenhagen, Buenos Aires. In June 1937 he sang Radames in Aida in Berlin under De Sabata: no wonder his account of Celeste, Aida made the previous month sounds so superbly prepared and delivered.

Perhaps the apex of all this activity for the singer himself was his own Summer Festival in 1937 at Porto Recanati, his home town, where he performed Andrea Chénier with Umberto Berrettoni conducting. By October that year he was making his fifth film. In November and December he gave eighteen recitals in England and Scotland before learning L’amico Fritz at Rome followed a season at La Scala that he considered “exceptionally brilliant”: no wonder when one sees details of the casts. In June 1938, when the final four recordings on this disc were cut, he was in London for a four-week season.

His recordings of the period underline the supreme joy in singing that Gigli obviously had during this happy period of world-wide fame. They show him performing with the confidence of the well-loved, generous artist that he was. Making discs in Europe – Berlin, Milan, London – his voice was caught with extraordinary truthfulness as we can now hear in these superbly remastered transfers.

The quasi-religious pieces by Bach-Gounod, Bizet, and César Franck may not be to our taste today, but they are sung with such a wealth of rich, vibrant tone and with such fervour that their sentimentality is easily overlooked. The two songs, originally issued on DA 1504, throw a light on another aspect of Gigli recitals, his interpretations of “serious” songs. He recorded few Lieder so his account of what in the original is Die Lotusblume, one of Schumann’s most entrancing songs, is to be treasured, not least because here Gigli eschews effects and concentrates on giving us a wonderful legato, spun on perfectly even tone. For some reason he sings the Grieg song in French. No matter: it is again an entirely winning account of a justly popular song.

Gigli loved singing Cilea, so it is not surprising to find that his interpretation of Federico’s lament over his lost love from L’arlesiana is one of his very best discs. Here he displays that haunting beauty of tone he brought to tragic utterances and conveying sadness of the soul. He gradually and unerringly builds the intensity of the piece to its searing climax on a high B. The other opera extract, the duet from Act 1 of La Bohème is a souvenir of his frequent partnership at the time, in the theatre and on disc, with Maria Caniglia. Gigli recorded the whole opera with Albanese, but Caniglia offers a more genuinely spinto timbre, and she and Gigli disclose a greater rapport than he achieved with Albanese.

For the rest we have the Italian songs with which Gigli so delighted his audiences throughout his career and for which he had a natural apititude. He always seems to catch to perfection the particular mood of a piece. There is the intimacy and passion of Occhi di fata by Denza, a master of sung things, the conjuring of lovers on a lagoon of Notte a Venezia, the heady seductiveness of Ninna nanna, a notable example of Gigli’s soft, velvet tone at its most beguiling, with a lovely mezza voce at the end, and the sheer high spirits of La danza, which brings the disc to an exhilarating end. One can even admire the tenor for his élan in the patriotic songs of the day, Giovinezza and Inno a Roma. But perhaps the most essential Gigli in this field on the disc are his interpretations of Tosti, so idiomatic and immediate, especially Serenata, with Gigli’s exquisite, inimitable touch at the close, and L’ultima canzone in which Gigli’s sincere and outgoing personality and voice are ideally caught.

© 2001 Alan Blyth

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