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Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, April 2007

This is the end of Naxos’s Gigli journey. The fifteenth volume brings us the 1955 Carnegie Hall recital programmes, just under an hour’s worth culled from the surviving music of the three concerts given in April of that year. This is their first CD appearance, it would appear, and the transfers have been effected from American and Italian LPs.

The old magic was pretty much intact even if the technique was no longer armour-plated. The programmes were felicitously chosen tocombine the odd novelty with a preponderance of trusty recital standbys. Programmatically the Meyerbeer would have been better down the running order and not opening the disc, especially as Gigli makes one of two ungrateful sounds and commits registral gear-grinding as he ascends. Still the Caccini wins us back with its thoroughly personalised versimo intimacy, that half-croon and voice hardening passion with which he explored Aria Antiche such as this. Prandelli, amongst many, must have leant a great deal from Gigli in this repertoire.

His Serse recitative is virile bordering on butch but Ombra mai fu itself has sweetness and portamenti in profusion – the voice may have weakened but the bel canto instincts were very much intact; the defiant masculainity of the outburst too. His Massenet Manon half voice elicts tremendous applause though he Gigli-ises the Wagner almost out of existence. One either surrenders to his Chopin Tristesse – the Etude in E major Op.10 No.3 – or one runs a mile from it. I’m for the former, though here his high notes are imperfectly produced. We also hear him coughing at the end of some songs, as here, quite loudly as well. The physical strain must have been considerable, even for one so famed as he.

There are trace elements of Gigli gold in the Gomes though I happen to find it a strenuous performance - annotator Alan Blyth doesn’t, it should be noted. The de Crescenzo is perhaps, for me, the highlight of all – so ravishingly done, so expressive it’s hard to tear oneself away despite the clamour of the audience applause. The aria from La fanciulla del West is the one item new to his discography. He’s taxed by it but it’s valuable none the less for reasons of its extreme rarity.

The long journey has been well worth it; the New York Farewell recitals have earned their place in Gigli folklore. And let’s not forget pianist Dino Fedri.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, February 2007

The fifteenth and final volume in Naxos's 'Gigli Edition' also marks the fiftieth anniversary of his death in 1957, and brings to CD for the first time extracts from the tenor's final concerts at New York's Carnegie Hall in 1955. I suppose those who, like myself, really care very deeply for his art will also be his most severe critics, for he was a singer of very limited scope, and when he remained within those boundaries he had no rival. Unfortunately he never seemed to recognise those limits, as you hear on this disc when he attempts - in Italian - to sing Wagner in a style completely alien to the composer. But return to Massenet and Puccini and even the ravages of age had left his art untarnished, while his singing of Neapolitan songs remained as virile as ever.  Sadly he had to live with the fact he neither had the looks nor stature to take the romantic parts demanded by Puccini, and we have to live with the fact that the gramophone era had come too late to do justice to him at the peak of his career. Though Gigli addicts cannot exist without this disc, for me it is a sad end to a singer now in his sixty-fifth year, for as a young teenager I had grown up to adore him and I still do. By then much of his singing was in the head to cover for the lack of chest notes, his adversaries describing it as 'crooning'. Yet turn to track 5 or 9 - the Manon and Werther excerpts - and the beauty is there in abundance. For one last time he even managed a heroic Cavaradossi, the audience applause of his ringing top note interrupting the aria. As with his final tour of Europe he sang with piano accompaniment so that he did not have to push his voice, but that thinness of backing only exposed vocal weaknesses. A historic document that captured the voice rather better than the piano, and immaculately presented.

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