About this Recording
8.110726 - CARUSO, Enrico: Complete Recordings, Vol. 8 (1913-1914)

Enrico Caruso

Enrico Caruso

Complete Recordings, Volume 8

If the business of great singers is only to sing great music, Caruso was hardly pulling his weight in these sessions from 1913 and 1914. There are three Verdi items, a noble and moving Addio alla madre from Cavalleria Rusticana (later to evoke a wonderful performance from Gigli), the tenor solo from Rossini’s Stabat Mater, and that is it. The rest are songs, most of them by composers not even mentioned in The New Grove, but for all their failure to satisfy the elevated taste of professional critics, the best popular songs of that era can often call out the very best in a singer, as John McCormack, Tito Schipa and Luciano Pavarotti have all shown. The trick is somehow to give the impression that the song practically sings itself. Simplicity and naturalness count for more than the big effect, and now that all the mountains have been climbed and nothing further needs to be proved, Caruso is beginning to master the art of scaling down his performances and moderating the climaxes. It is often said that his voice darkened and grew heavier as the years went by, but the opening phrases of Guardann’a luna [track 2] and Manella mia [track 11] are more like the young Caruso, lyrical and flexible, with sweetness and richness of tone perfectly matched.

These songs were not hoary old classics. Lasciati amar [track 1] was recorded in the year it was published, like Mamma mia che vo’ sapé in 1909 and Core ’ngrato in 1911. Not only were their composers still living, some of them were Caruso’s contemporaries or even younger. De Crescenzo, who wrote Guardann’a luna, was born two years after Caruso and lived until 1964. Vincenzo Ricciardi, whose Amor mio dates from 1904, died in 1950; his son Luigi was still writing traditional Neapolitan songs in the 1960s. This was a tradition with a proud ancestry. Fenesta che lucive [track 4] dates back to the age of Bellini, and for many years was consistently attributed to him, though the music was actually written by Guglielmo Cottrau, a name which still had some resonance in the Naples of Caruso’s day. Guglielmo’s son Teodoro, a native of the city like his father, published collections of Neapolitan songs and also wrote many of his own; these included the famous Santa Lucia and Addio a Napoli, both of which Caruso was later to record.

The English, as one might expect, favoured a rather different kind of song, often termed the drawing-room ballad. The versatile Paolo Tosti, a Neapolitan by upbringing and composer of two great favourites in Ideale (Complete Caruso Vol. 3) and ’A Vucchella (recorded in 1919), could turn his hand to these too, though Parted [track 15] is hardly his finest achievement. Tosti actually made his home in London as early as 1880, where he became singing teacher to the royal family and later a British subject. Another figure of note, now largely forgotten, was Kreisler’s favourite conductor Landon Ronald, who wrote the music for Sérénade espagnole [track 14]. Born in 1873, the same year as Caruso, he came to play a vital rôle in the early years of The Gramophone and Typewriter Company. In addition to acting as accompanist and diplomatic soother of ruffled egos, foremost amongst them that of the exacting and sharp-tongued Melba, he was also responsible in 1914 for coaxing his friend Elgar into the recording studio for the first time.

The French were not without their own vein of sentimentality, exemplified in Les Rameaux [tracks 6 and 12]. The existence of two versions seems to reflect a change of heart amongst Victor executives, but a puzzle remains. One can understand that they may originally have doubted whether the song would sell in America and so decided to release it only in Europe, but having changed their minds on that, as they appear to have done, why did they get Caruso to record the song again? The U.S. version was never used to replace the European version in Europe, indeed it was never issued there, just as the European version was never issued in the U.S., a curious duplication in the catalogue. The name of the song’s composer is now so obscure that in Caruso discographies it routinely gets miscorrected to Fauré by those with a little knowledge of French song. In his day (the third quarter of the nineteenth century), Jean-Baptiste Faure was a celebrated baritone at the Paris Opéra, as well as being something of an art collector. His taste in painting, if not, it would appear, in song, was rather in advance of its time: he was one of the first to buy works by the Impressionists, though Monet’s Vétheuil in the Mist was regretfully returned to the artist with the explanation that his friends had mocked him for buying a painting with nothing on it.

Of the operatic items, one has a very special interest. In later years Toscanini singled out four vocal phenomena that he had heard in his lifetime: Tamagno, Caruso, Tetrazzini and Ruffo. Unfortunately the paths of Titta Ruffo and Caruso seldom crossed. The two had both taken part in the 1905 Paris première of Fedora, in front of an audience which contained Massenet, Fauré, Debussy, Ravel and Saint-Saëns. They had appeared together in Rigoletto in the 1912 summer season of opera in Paris, for which Chaliapin was also engaged. That same year Ruffo sang in the United States for the first time, but Chicago was his regular base; he first appeared at the Met after Caruso’s death, and the duet from Otello [track 8] is the sole instance on record of any collaboration between them. Enzo Grimaldo, a duet from La Gioconda, was recorded at the same session, but it was never published and the matrix was destroyed.

A contemporary French critic, Henri de Curzon, wrote comparing the voices: ‘They are justifiably considered amongst the most beautiful of our time. But if Ruffo’s, in the fullness of his powers, is of an astonishing flexibility and brilliance, Caruso’s, though he seems hardly to have as much voice, remains to the last even more beautiful, of a more penetrating charm and seductive grace, even if it is more covered, more nasal and of a less moving timbre.’

Hugh Griffith

Ward Marston

In 1997 Ward Marston was nominated for the Best Historical Album Grammy Award for his production work on BMG’s Fritz Kreisler collection. According to the Chicago Tribune, Marston’s name is ‘synonymous with tender loving care to collectors of historical CDs’. Opera News calls his work ‘revelatory’, and Fanfare deems him ‘miraculous’. In 1996 Ward Marston received the Gramophone award for Historical Vocal Recording of the Year, honouring his production and engineering work on Romophone’s complete recordings of Lucrezia Bori. He also served as re-recording engineer for the Franklin Mint’s Arturo Toscanini issue and BMG’s Sergey Rachmaninov recordings, both winners of the Best Historical Album Grammy.

Born blind in 1952, Ward Marston has amassed tens of thousands of opera classical records over the past four decades. Following a stint in radio while a student at Williams College, he became well-known as a reissue producer in 1979, when he restored the earliest known stereo recording made by the Bell Telephone Laboratories in 1932.

In the past, Ward Marston has produced records for a number of major and specialist record companies. Now he is bringing his distinctive sonic vision to bear on works released on the Naxos Historical label. Ultimately his goal is to make the music he remasters sound as natural as possible and true to life by ‘lifting the voices’ off his old 78 rpm recordings. His aim is to promote the importance of preserving old recordings and make available the works of great musicians who need to be heard.

The Naxos historical label aims to make available the greatest recordings in the history of recorded music, in the best and truest sound that contemporary technology can provide. To achieve this aim, Naxos has engaged a number of respected restorers who have the dedication, skill and experience to produce restorations that have set new standards in the field of historical recordings.

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