, 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.