Ezio Pinza - Recital
I am reviewing these issues together because though the singers are obviously very different from each other, the CDs appear at the same time from the same source and are the work of the same team. Moreover, it is the nature of these transfers that draws prime attention. In their different ways, I found both of them frustrating. Pinza has one of the most sumptuous voices on record, yet that is hardly the overwhelming impression here. Melba had a voice of exceptional purity; but here she rattles.
We'll take Pinza first. The frustration arises with the first track, the 1927 recording of Tosti's
A two-disc Pinza recital on the Memories label ((CD) HR4411/12), by no means exceptional for sound-quality, has this song, appropriately, as the final item and, comparing the two, I enjoy it a good deal more. To put the matter on a less personal basis, try the solo from Verdi's Requiem (the separate, 1929 version). Here there is evident distortion, heard first in the second phrase, then at such a moderate volume as the rise on ''oro'' in ''Oro supplex et acclinis'', and from then on pretty regularly throughout. This same account is included in recitals on Memories (mentioned above), Memoir Classics (7/91) and Pearl (2/89) which have none of this trouble and which reproduce perfectly well.
With Melba the obtrusive feature of these transfers is, as I say, a kind of rattle. I would suggest a comparison of Arditi's Se saran rose with the version on the Nimbus ''Prima Voce Party'' ((CD) NI7839) except that I know so much parti pris is involved. Again, it has to be put personally: to my ears the Nimbus reproduction exactly fits W. J. Henderson's account of Melba's singing in its prime, quoted by William Moran in his notes for the RCA disc, whereas the RCA itself comes closer (without arriving at the point) to a phrase I was once given by someone who heard Melba in later years and said ''Oh, it was a mean little voice''. For a less inflammatory comparison there is the recital on Pearl (CD GEMMCD9335) where, for example,
Not everything in these collections is affected by the characteristics I have tried to indicate. The Melba recital ends with a heavenly, utterly unblemished, 1916 recording of Dvorak's Songs my mother taught me, not the commercially published second take but the first, which was found in Melba's Coombe Cottage by Moran in 1960. This is so beautifully sung and the reproduction is so natural and clear that one almost feels we would know why she was Melba even if this were all that survived of her. It brings a rush of emotion which comes too with White's
In the case of Pinza, emotion rushed (I found) at one point only, and that the least expected. In 1950 he recorded Kurt Weill's ''September Song'' from Knickerbocker Holiday in an elderly voice, far from the years of his prime. Yet in that recording (made and transferred to CD independently) the former glory is glimpsed and can be transferred back to the earlier days. From those years, around 1930, there is a fine and rare recording of the opening scene in Il trovatore; also previously unpublished takes of the solos from Le caid and Ernani, not notably different from the familiar versions but heard here (the Ernani especially) in fine sound. The other joy, in the course of my listening, came in the 1940 series: the Nurse's lullaby from Monteverdi's