This is a major addition to the Pearl catalogue and to any private collection of great singers on CD. EMI brought out their glorious Patti album on LP in January 1974 (nla) in a limited edition, and this is the first comparable issue for the new format. It contains Patti's whole recorded repertoire, omitting only the duplications (the earlier Home, sweet home and Serenata, and the second Jewel Song and Last rose). Some (maybe all) of the copies used are the same as in the EMI—the ticks at the start of Si vous n'avez rien a me dire reappear like old friends, but generally the condition of the originals is first rate, as are the transfers. In those I compared I found the tone, particularly on high notes, a shade kindlier on the LPs, but the CD versions have splendid presence and clarity, and are 'lifted' just a little further away from the surfaces.
Decisions about pitch appear to have remained constant (E flat for the Don Giovanni, Faust and Norma arias, for instance). Very slightly I felt that the voice sounded lower than its former self in the last two of the 1906 series, though as far as La calasera is concerned this may be partly due to having quite frequently over the last month or so played the Nimbus transfer ((CD) NI7802, 10/89) where it is given in D rather than D flat—not, to my ears a distortion, but if a mistake then a rather gallant one enabling Patti to sound a few years younger and the listener to obtain an echo of the 1890s.
That brings me to the presentation of the new record. On the front the lovely painting by Frossard (familiar from the cover of Michael Scott's Record of Singing—Duckworth: 1978) is placed against a background of the special pink of the original Patti labels, and underneath, very clearly printed, are the dates 1843–1919. So it should be easy enough to work out that the singer was over 60 when she made her records. Yet I feel it's essential to make sure that this is appreciated before the records are heard; perhaps also the fact that she had been before the public for something like 50 years. The booklet, with its admirable but anonymous essay, explains all; but perhaps because in the past I have witnessed people's disappointment arising out of unrealistic expectations, I wonder whether the back of the jewel case should not display some information, such as 'Her only known recordings, made in her home at the ages of 62 and 63'.
With that firmly in mind, the records will commonly be found to exceed expectation. The unique timbre and great beauty of the voice in its middle register are most touchingly preserved; so too is the sense of a living artist, so animated, so imaginative. Some (perhaps many) details are regrettable, almost the whole of ''Casta diva'' and much of The last rose of summer, for instance. But the Jewel song (in both versions), the Mignon, Robin Adair, Tosti's Serenata (my favourite) and several others sound out across the years to inspire applause and affection now as in the earliest days of the invention that has so miraculously preserved them.'