Italian Baritones of the Acoustic Era
The compiler here is working on the principle that the tastiest fish in the sea are not always the biggest, so he casts his net wide and comes back with an interesting catch. On this occasion he is fishing for baritones only and confines himself to what for many listeners are the dark unfathomed waters of the pre-electrical era. Battistinis, De Lucas or Ruffos are thrown back: plenty in the market already. But Francesco Maria Bonini: it's a long time since we had him for supper, so let's try.
The cooking metaphor is all too apt as far as Rigoletto's ''Cortigiani'' solo is concerned, for the rare Fonotipia of 1904 plays with the foreground of a vigorous fry-up through which we nevertheless hear an exceptionally fine legato in the ''Miei signori'' section: the editor apologizes for the condition, but is quite right in concluding that it is worth having even so. The prayer from Leoncavallo's Rolando di Berlino, which follows makes ample amends in the excellence of the copy used, and it also offers a fine example of the lyric baritone's art. Ferruccio Corradetti, heard next, is usually remembered as a buffalo, and Dulcamara's address in
The singer who (for me) came as the outstanding discovery in Vol. 1 of the Genoan anthology (Memories, 11/92) was Giuseppe Bellantoni, whose excellent ''A tanto amor'' is followed here by a beautifully phrased and shaded ''Vision fugitive'' (sung in Italian). Another of whom I have long been hoping to hear more is Gaetano Viviani (Barnaba in the old 78rpm Italian Columbia set of La Gioconda), whose ''Urna fatale'' (1924) is one of the most stylish of all recordings of this particularly difficult aria. But here arises the vexed matter of pitch. It is given in the score key of F though usually transposed by a semitone. This I accepted and admired, but then found the next item, the Toreador's song, up a semitone from score-pitch (not impossible as Viviani may have been troubled by the low notes, yet somewhat unlikely even so). Just before this, the Forza del destino duet (''Le minaccie'') has been given a semitone low, making the tenor Fusati sound still worse than he is. Also my equipment did not take kindly to the two final tracks, which 'chugged', the volume of the interference varying with that of the music. Readers who are initially attracted to the disc will probably still find it worthwhile, and there are informative notes by Fernando Battaglia.'