John McCormack (1884-1945)
You think, at the start of this journey through the recordings of two years, that here is McCormack at his absolute best, in the first of the Lucia di Lammermoor solos; but no, for the second one (“Tu che a Dio spiegasti l’ali”), made two months later, is better still, a perfection of lyrical singing, the music lying ideally within his voice as it was at that time, and with the heart and imagination more evidently involved. A little later comes “Una furtiva lagrima”, where the modulation into D flat major (“m’ama”) brings surely some of the most beautiful, most unflawed tenor singing ever recorded. Then, on the same day as the second Lucia solo, McCormack added the magically caressed and shaded La fille du regiment aria and, with an inspired sadness in the last verse, the traditional song,
No, he is a wonderful singer, and this album, confining itself to the years 1910 and 1911, presents him in finest voice. He was only 25 at the outset: in the first flush of his operatic success and already the partner of Melba (heard with him in the Rigoletto Quartet and Faust Trio) and Tetrazzini. His favourite baritone partner was Mario Sammarco, who turns up as a blustery Figaro to his elegant Almaviva, retiring to a more discreet distance behind the recording horn in the Pecheurs de perles duet (the deservedly rare version included here along with the more familiar ten inch). They also join in the gondolieri-like harmonies of Rossini’s Li marinari (splendid high Bs from McCormack) and give each other a run for their money in a full-bodied, exciting account of the duet from La Gioconda. McCormack, it is true, had still to develop eloquence as a singer of songs, but his eventual mastery is clearly foretold in the old Irish song, She is far from the land, a haunting and heartfelt piece of tender nostalgia.
These are excellent transfers by Ward Marston. The insert-notes have a good essay by John Scarry, and are well illustrated. Trifling errors include “Ah” (instead of “O, Mimi tu piu non torni”), “A” (instead of “Ah, vien” in Lakme) and wrong numbers for