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Anthony Clarke
Limelight, February 2007

Anyone who thinks fine recorded sound couldn’t exist in the pre-electrical days of huge acoustic horns should listen to this disc. Back in 1913, a singer would stand in front of a giant horn and sing his or her heart out. The accompaniment—usually a piano, or small brass-dominated ensemble—would be placed further back, and would play as loud as they could, hoping that some of their sound would wind its way down through that horn, down into the resonating needle that was writing its sound-impression in the soft wax of the master-disc. Most instruments fared poorly. The early recording techniques however suited remarkably well the frequency and the timbre of the human voice. The limitations were there but were easily overlooked in the overall wonder of the recordings.

John McCormack, the famed Irish tenor, was one of the most prolific recording artists, rivaling our own Peter Dawson for record sales. Many of his most beautiful recordings came from his acoustic recording era. The voice survived the primitive recording technique quite miraculously—the natural lyric sweetness of his voice is undimmed and radiant. This disc, the fourth in the series, brings us opera arias by Massenet, Verdi and Bizet, and some Irish songs which were always his most popular concert items. But there is extra significance in this disc. It brings us the very first pairing of one of the great artistic duos of recording history—of McCormack with the violinist Fritz Kreisler. Between 1914 and 1924 they recorded some 22 songs, each an absolute gem, with Kreisler’s violin obbligato caressing McCormack’s very special vocal legato. The present disc includes the first four of these classic recordings. Naxos have used the services of the renowned transfer expert Ward Marston to dub the old shellac 78 rpm discs to CD, and the transfer results are superb. I doubt whether any of these recordings have ever been heard in such splendid condition.

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