Rosa Ponselle - Opera & Song Recital
RCA's return to the historical field is as welcome as it is timely, timely, that is, in showing a renewed interest in their own priceless archives and, particularly with this Ponselle recital, in providing the listener with a choice. Ponselle was one of the three singers honoured by Nimbus with a complete recital devoted to her recordings in the launch of their highly publicized Prima Voce series. This ((CD) NI7805, 10/89) includes six items that are also to be heard on the RCA disc (seven with the Ernani aria, of which Nimbus have the pre-electrical version and RCA the better-known remake of 1928). The choice, then, lies between contents as far as the rest of the programme is concerned, and between quality of transfer throughout.
To take repertoire first, both concentrate on opera but add a few songs. The Nimbus disc scores with two charming Italian ones by De Curtis and Di Capua from 1924, rare in their original form and sung with the incomparable beauty of the young voice. RCA have two fascinating items from the series made at the singer's home in 1954, 17 years after her retirement; they are well chosen, both of them showing how much of the rich, powerful tones had survived and how vividly communicative her art had become. Among early operatic recordings Nimbus have the magnificent Nile duet from Aida with Martinelli, while RCA select the solo from
What, then, of the transfers? RCA's are certainly better at picking up the consonants and at bringing the singer into sharp focus in a face-toface relationship. The Nimbus disc takes her away from us to the extent of pladng her in a hall or opera house resonance—which, one could argue, is where she belongs. One of the complaints about her recordings always used to be that they are too confined and boxy; listening to the RCA transfers I see, very clearly, and in the 1939 song recordings with uncomfortable closeness, a singer in a studio, whereas with Nimbus I see a figure on the stage. Both have their advantages, and both, it should be added, very successfully lift the voice out and free from all the gubbins of the old 78rpm surfaces.
Ponselle, of course, was one of the great singers of the century, and acquisition of either of the redtals is quite likely to lead to that of the other. This will be in spite of some frustrations, for not everything in the singing is as the heart desires and she was always considered difficult to catch adequately under recording conditions. Yet the first note of ''Pace, pace, mio Dio'', with its long steady swell and retraction, the trill and magically light staccatos of Ernani, the legato of the prayer in La vestale, the beauty and control of the soft major-key phrases in La Gioconda: all of these moments and so many others proclaim the truth of the general verdict that at her best Ponselle stood supreme among the sopranos as Caruso did among tenors.'