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Classic FM, June 2005

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Colin Clarke
MusicWeb International, October 2004

"A completist’s dream, this. As Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer Mark Obert-Thorn puts it, ‘The aim of this series is to include every Gigli recording released at the time, as well as every published alternate take and, wherever available, unpublished takes.’ A fascinating undertaking indeed, and one that yields massively interesting results. It breathes the aura of a labour of love conscientiously undertaken.

It makes for fascinating listening, too, with several items presented in multiple versions. Running through the whole is the constant of Gigli’s magnificent instrument. Everything sung in Italian, of course, whether of Italianate origin or not. That said the opening Bizet item does not suffer at all. The famous ‘Pearl Fisher’s Duet’ matches Gigli with De Luca. Immediately it becomes apparent that surface noise is at a very acceptable level. The actual arrival at ‘Del temio’ is a real musical blossoming out; the ensuing music has real intensity; both Gigli and De Luca sing as if their lives depended on it! This is an intense reading; if only the rest of the opera was musically up to the standard of this excerpt! There is a fluency to this (the conductor is Rosario Bourdon) that is most appealing.

Next up are two versions of the same excerpt from La Gioconda, Enzo Grimaldo, Principe di Santafior!’. De Luca again partners, here in commanding form both times. Gigli is supremely dramatic, massively powerful, singing the typically Italian lustier moments for all they are worth. For take 2 I actually listened more to De Luca, who seems more involved that time round …

The next seven tracks are taken from Lucia, the first six all dating from one day (December 12th, 1927), the seventh (an ensemble) from four days later. Actually, the very first except (‘Tombe degl’avi miei’) shows Gigli at his most meltingly lyrical. Flourishes are superbly negotiated. A well-behaved chorus graces ‘Giusto cielo, irispondete!’; Pinza is confident and imposing.

But the most ringing high notes yet come with ‘Tu che a Dio spiegasti l’ali’ (and with them tremendous voltage towards the end, after the honeyed legato of the opening). This is a peaceful track that rises naturally to an imposing climax.

Perhaps just as well to separate the Donizetti repetitions by presenting two groups of three, rather than juxtapose then a la Ponchielli here (it would become tiring otherwise). Track 7 is an unpublished alternative to the earlier ‘Tombe egl’avi miei’. Perhaps Gigli is even more expressive in recitative here, and his ‘float’ at around 1’50 seems to linger in the memory … differences in ‘Tu che a Dio spiegast l’ali’ seem minimal (resting on the sobbing, perhaps?!). The Lucia excerpts close with the Act 2 ensemble, ‘Chi mi frena in tal momento?’ (only one take of this). Actually, Gigli is almost upstaged by Amelita Galli-Curci, whose soprano is just so pure, her pitching so spot-on, easily the brightest star in a veritable constellation of stars (check out the listing!). This is astonishingly beautiful, the clear highlight of the whole eighty minutes.

The famous Quartet from Rigoletto, ‘Bella figlia d’amore’, is heard in two takes from December 16th, 1927. Again, Galli-Curci is present, as are Homer and De Luca. Gigli’s legato is superb, and one is aware of the power held in reserve as he sings. The only minus point is that at the high point it does rather sound as if all these superstars are trying to outdo each other … It must be admitted that Gigli sounds slightly less healthy in the second take on the disc (track 14).

The Ambroise Thomas excerpts reveal Gigli’s affinity for this music. His phrasing in ‘Ah non credevi tu’ is supremely sweet (only some sickly portamenti in the violins detracts), while there is a decidedly interior aspect to ‘Addio, Mignon, fa core’. Meyerbeer’s ‘O paradiso’ (from L’africaine) provides a fitting climax to this small group.

These Naxos issues would be incomplete, of course, without a couple of songs to round things off. Here two De Curtis numbers do the trick. Voce ‘e notte is introduce by some strings bathing in syrup before Gigli takes us into a different universe. His belief in this repertoire suffuses every note, and it is this that carries the music through.

A wonderful issue, in all. The use of only two songs, which are used to round off the recital, helps the more substantial feel that the programme has. A very highly recommended snapshot of Gigli as he was in New York in the years 1927 and 1928."

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