Count John McCormack-The Final Recordings
Count John McCormack, who died in September 1945, gave his farewell recital at the Royal Albert Hall, London in 1938, but the war brought him out of retirement to sing to the troops, broadcast to the nation and make records that would help cheer the dark days. The year 1941, when the majority of these songs were recorded, had its full quota. Brian Fawcett-Johnston’s insert-notes recall that November 6th, on which McCormack made his recording of Parry’s Jerusalem, was nominated by A. J. P. Taylor “the worst day of the Second World War”. It is in this context that the records collected here should be judged. They were issued on the celebrity red label, but McCormack’s intention was to reach as wide an audience as he could. If Haydn Wood’s A rose still blooms in Picardy (also recorded on the 6th) and Wolfe’s
Such ‘great ones’ as are to be found in these late recordings (a couple of Bach arrangements, three minutes of dubious Handel, a version of Mozart’s Ave verum corpus that sounds uncomfortably akin in genre to Mason’s Say a little prayer which has just preceded it) cannot be said to contribute its main attractions. It is a pleasure to find Vaughan Williams’s Silent noon, Bax’s The White Peace and even Somervell’s Housman settings, musically complacent as they are, but the real business is Haynes’s arrangement of Off to Philadelphia and Hughes’s of She moved through the fair: essence of McCormack in these. Among the items unpublished in their time are some claimed as first releases, one of them (
Moore’s part in this whole sequence of recordings is as remarkable as anything: he lends distinction to even the most banal of accompaniments and seems to know exactly what McCormack is going to do, even though (as he says in his memoirs – London: 1962) he rarely did the same thing twice running and rehearsal was considered a waste of time. McCormack had, of course, to ‘manage’ what remained of his voice, as he did with consummate skill. Range and volume were very limited, but what impresses in these late recordings is the mellowness of tone, and the transfers faithfully preserve it. One other remark of Moore’s deserves noting: “his bon-bons always came at the end of the evening”. These are all (or nearly all) ‘bon-bons’, best played no more than three or four at a time and kept till last.'