Count John McCormack-The Final Recordings

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Count John McCormack-The Final Recordings

  • God keep you is my prayer
  • At the mid hour of night
  • (A) Cycle of Love Songs, When I awake
  • Down by the Salley Gardens
  • She rested by the broken brook
  • Cantata No. 4, 'Christ lag in Todesbanden', Jesus Christus, Gottes Sohn (T)
  • Cantata No. 147, 'Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben', Choral: Jesu bleibet meine Freude (Jesu, joy of man's desiring)
  • (The) House of Life, No. 2, Silent Noon
  • (A) Shropshire Lad, Loveliest of trees
  • (A) Shropshire Lad, The street sounds to the soldiers' tread
  • (A) Shropshire Lad, White in the moon the long road lies
  • (The) Dawn will break
  • (The) Village that nobody knows
  • Dank sei dir, Herr
  • Linden Lea
  • (The) White peace
  • Little boats
  • She moved through the fair
  • No, not more welcome
  • (The) Green bushes
  • Bantry Bay
  • Maureen
  • Our finest hour
  • Smilin' through
  • (The) Devout Lover
  • Robin Hood, O Promise Me
  • (A) Rose still blooms in Picardy
  • Jerusalem
  • Will you go with me
  • Night hymn at sea
  • Still wie die Nacht
  • Off to Philadelphia
  • (6) Soirées de Saint-Pétersbourg, No. 1, Romance in E flat
  • Here in the quiet hills
  • God Bless America
  • Battle Hymn of the Republic
  • I'll walk beside you
  • By the lakes of Killarney
  • Irish Melodies, UNSPECIFIED VOLUMES:, Love thee, dearest, love thee
  • Children's prayer in wartime
  • One love forever
  • Say a little prayer
  • Ave verum corpus
  • An Chloe
  • Waiting for you

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 A Children’s Prayer in Wartime (“though there be death within the sky”) touched the heart of ‘ordinary people’, then they were doing something useful; if Our finest Hour (McCormack) and God bless America (Berlin) caught the spirit of the times then they were right for their time. The great thing was to do them well, to get the words across clearly, to feel what there was for feeling, with the sincerity that would neither exploit simple emotions nor inflate simple music; and for this task McCormack was the man. As Gerald Moore put it: “He gave to those Irish and sentimental ballads the same flawless technique and sincerity that he brought to bear on Mozart’s ‘Il mio tesoro’”; and, as Ernest Newman said, he was “so perfect in small things because he was steeped in greater ones”.
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 (No, not more welcome, an Irish air arranged by Herbert Hughes) especially vivid as a recording of the voice. Both duets with Dame Maggie Teyte are there (Goring Thomas’s Night Hymn at Sea and Gotze’s arrangement of Still as the night), the former being badly balanced and the (unique?) copy not in very good condition. Another ‘first’ comes from a broadcast in 1942 at the home of the actress Dame Irene Vanbrugh, whose birthday is decorously celebrated and where McCormack sings Somervell’s arrangement of The gentle maiden and I’ll walk beside you (Murray), Gerald Moore having been conveniently discovered among the guests.
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.'

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