Tito Schipa - Opera & Song Recital
''To him that hath …'' At the time of writing Schipa has two admirable CDs devoted to him in the Pearl catalogue ((CD) GEMMCD9322, 2/89 and 9364—to be reviewed later—two of their best); and even now, deep in the heart of Monmouth, the Nimbus team are probably at work on the Schipa recital promised as a forthcoming attraction in their Prima Voce series. This is all in the wake of the Gramophone Award-winning EMI album ( EX290948-3, 4/87), condensed by EMI for a References CD ( CDH7 63200-2—also for later review) in addition to his six Preiser/ Harmonia Mundi LPs and numerous other releases in different parts of the world. Now comes this RCA collection, drawn mostly from the time when Schipa was principal lyric tenor at Chicago, which was also the period of his prime.
Among so many issues are bound to be duplications, not, however, between the EMI and RCA which complement each other very nicely. As well as covering their respective areas, each of them has its own stock of rarities. EMI have the first recordings of all, from 1913, RCA come up with four that are new to the UK, including two that are unknown even to the current Schipa discographers. A charming song by Paladilhe from his Suzanne, ''Comme un petit oiseau'', is beautifully sung and as a recording marks a small triumph for both the old system (just on the verge of the electrical process and as far as the voice is concerned leaving little room for improvement) and for the CD transfer. This is an addition to the repertoire. Not so Chi se nne scorda ochiu which Schipa sang everywhere he went and which he was known to have recorded at least four times, this extraordinary one from 1934 making a fifth. I wish the notes gave some information about its provenance: is it some sort of test-pressing perhaps? There is a pianist who plays a few notes every now and then; otherwise it is sung unaccompanied, brilliantly of course, with the voice so vivid and natural that you almost look round and expect to see him sitting over there on the piano stool. Then there is the Lucia duet with Galli-Curci: electrical. That is, not the 1924 recording but a slightly more expressive and expansive one, of which, unless we managed to catch some out-of-the-way American imports, we know nothing. Galli-Curci is four years flatter than before but still sings beautifully; the orchestra are said to be conducted by 'Mr Prince', from whom many a modern maestro could learn something about the art of accompaniment. The other rarity is an early version of ''Una furtiva lagrima''—better or even better, than the famous recording of 1929, and one of the best Schipa transfers of all.
And who'', asks a patient voice, ''was Schipa?'' Or rather in addition to being principal lyric tenor at Chicago in the 1920s, what was so special about him? Well, it is partly voice, partly style and partly personality; but once heard immediately recognized on the next encounter, and usually with increasing awareness that this is a singer who stays in the mind, a point of reference, an archetype, a setter of standards. But don't test him out in Don Giovanni. He was an admired Ottavio in his time, but on the whole it would be better if those two arias were returned to the vaults whence some other buried treasure might be retrieved and brought up to a grateful public eager for still more.'