Giovanni Martinelli Complete Acoustic Recordings, 1912-24
Martinelli died 30 years ago, a beloved figure in the USA and Britain, not so much admired in his native Italy. As JBS points out in his predictably perceptive notes to this reissue of all the tenor’s recordings by the acoustic process, he has always – and still – divides opinion, the believers admiring his distinctive voice and style, his amazing breath control, the disbelievers reviling his (to them) dry and strained tone. His acoustic recordings often serve to confirm the view of the detractors, his voice sounding drier and more nasal than is the case with the electrics, which suddenly reveal, like a picture cleaned, the strength of his tone and the power of its projection. So where titles here were remade after 1925 I would in every case prefer the later versions to the pre-electrics, not least the items from Trovatore, but there is so much material not later repeated and so important to understanding Martinelli that this is a ‘must’ for collectors, especially in such faultless transfers.
Many tracks chronicle roles Martinelli essayed during the early part of his long career at the Metropolitan, when Caruso was still alive. The long list of Puccini arias, Edisons of 1912 and Victors of 1913-14, and two versions of ‘Cielo e mar’ (the later given in the attenuated form then often recorded) reveal the tenor’s peculiar gifts of keenly etched line, long breath and classic definition of the text. Then, among the Verdi items, we gain an intimation of what his Riccardo and Ernani must have been like on stage, the former’s Barcarolle a model of Verdian style where the singing is concerned but a shade stiff in expression, the latter’s aria evincing the fire and straightforward honesty of Martinelli’s Verdi singing.
The famous souvenirs of his Don Jose to Farrar’s Carmen, wonderfully vivid on both sides, take us to the heart of a real performance, with the tenor almost too noble in feeling. Other notable partnerships are remembered in the Aida duets with Ponselle (the work’s finale finding Ponselle in even finer voice than on the electric remake) and the Butterfly love duet with Alda, Martinelli’s legato ideal in all cases. Arias from
The most cogent reason, however, for acquiring these three CDs is the irreplaceable recordings from Guillaume Tell – aria, duet with Journet, trio with de Luca and Mardones (including an unpublished take). Nobody before or since has conveyed Arnold’s patriotic fervour with Martinelli’s elan, or sustained the high-lying phrases with such technical control, ‘O muto asil’ a model of heroic singing. And who, Caruso apart, has sung Eleazar’s arias (both previously unpublished) with such dignity and feeling? And don’t overlook, with de Luca, the gentle avowal of friendship from Don Carlo, notable for its unforced entwining of the two voices. No, by the end of three CDs, the disbelievers are surely put to flight.'