, July 2001
"After the first hearing of this CD, you will want all the others. With this issue, Naxos has reached the half-way point in their 12 volume collection of the complete recordings of Enrico Caruso and this single disk alone will convince you, if you were in doubt, that he was probably the greatest tenor who ever lived.
"This collection has two major recommendations that separate it from the others Caruso recordings now available. These recordings were all the result of restorations by re-recording engineer Ward Marston, who has become somewhat of a legend is his field. He has taken the Caruso voice, lifted it from the flawed and scratchy analogue surfaces - cylinder or vinyl - and allowed this voice to sound a good deal like it did in the studio during the recording sessions in New Jersey. The voice was not "improved" in any way but what is largely cleansed is the distracting incipient noise and distortions, which, for all of these early records, normally sounds like the singer was recorded next to the M6 during rush hour or standing next to a waterfall.
"The second major recommendation is that Naxos is selling these disks not at a premium but at a very good price. The company knows that these "historical recordings," no matter how scrubbed and polished, still do not attract the buyers that do performances recorded with current digital technology. But the early recording of Toscanini, Caruso, Gigli and others, active at the beginning of the Twentieth Century, are musical treasures that should have wide distribution. The price reflects an effort to give them the maximum distribution.
"This recording (this collection is being published chronologically) is from the period 1911-1912. In 1908, opening the season at the Metropolitan Opera, Caruso found in his voice more power than he had heretofore demonstrated. This can be seen, for example in his "Celeste Aida," (this time with the recitative) with such a ringing top that it reminds you of Del Monaco. He is clearly here more of a dramatic tenor than in earlier recorded performances. For specific arias of interest, there is another "Una furtiva lagrima," here with a minimal orchestral accompaniment. There are two fine arias from Leoncavallo's rarely heard La Boheme and two each from La Forza del destino and Un ballo in maschera. His heavily-accented English is heard in Teschemacher's "Love is Mine," and his passable French in the passionate rendition of the "Ah! Fuyez, douce image" from Manon by Massenet. There are also four cuts, featuring Caruso, from Flotow's Martha, here sung in Italian. This is from one of the early attempts to record a complete opera and also feature the fine French baritone Marcel Journet and soprano Frances Alda.
"This is a Caruso I certainly have not heard before, with a passionate and clarion tenor voice and devoid of most background noise. It is still an historic recording and not in any way comparable with modern recording techniques. The "orchestra" which accompanies Caruso here is, of course, merely an abbreviated band with a tinny sound. These are recordings, no matter how well turned out, that are approaching their centenary birthday; this was the infancy of the recording of music. The insert does not have the texts to the arias but does discuss Caruso's life at the time these recording were made. Nevertheless, it certainly is a new plateau in the restoration of early recordings and this single CD is a superb introduction to this monumental artist."