Still the supremely beautiful sound among tenors since Caruso's time still a completely distinctive character among singers; Gigli makes one rejoice afresh in the coming of the Compact Disc. On both of these the voice is set right before us clear as in life; and just as in life he would give the impression that he could go on singing all night, so we feel that it would be quite easy to listen to this wonderfully natural, unforced production for hour after hour. Both records claim to present him in his best period, and though the Pearl recital concentrates on the 1920s and EMI on the 1930s, he generally manages to persuade us that both are right. The Pearl draws on the American Victor recordings made when Gigli was at the Metropolitan, and here certainly the full-blown richness and lyricism are breathtaking. The EMI has mostly items made in London and Milan, the latest, from 1941, showing the voice still honeyed, the manner meltingly affectionate and personal. Both contain essentials for any collection: practically every track on the Pearl record qualifies under that heading, and on the EMI are the La boheme and Faust arias (best-sellers in their time) and the buoyant, beguiling ''La donna e mobile'' of 1934. Only the Rigoletto Quartet occurs on both, and only the La boheme duet with Caniglia fails to earn its place.
That said, I have to report for what it's worth that the EMI recital (played first) left me dry-eyed while the Pearl suddenly took the emotions by storm. Reasons are not easy to pin down. They have a little to do with the repertoire, the Mignon and Mefistofele arias coming as a lovely surprise, and the Neapolitan songs catching him so charmingly and characteristically. It is no doubt also true that the voice, still superb in the 1930s, was overwhelmingly beautiful in the 1920s. The difference in recorded sound may also be a factor: the EMI/HMV has more brightness and edge, but the Pearl/Victor captures the full lush beauty which I remember of the voice heard (in later years) 'in the flesh'. Test it this way: if I were allowed to keep only one it would be the Pearl. And in case any reader objects that that is what I would say as I wrote the sleeve-note, I had better add that it was so long ago that, having started to read the opening remarks, I turned over the page to see who was to be held responsible this time for the fatuities which would doubtless be forthcoming.'