Tribute to Dennis Noble
“Unjustly neglected”, says AB in his insert-notes, referring to the lack of interest shown by the record companies in Dennis Noble since his death in 1966, and drawing attention to this collection as the first on either CD or LP. “Almost as unjustly taken for granted in his active days”, might be a further, rather saddening, reflection. Like AB, I was brought up on these records, but suspect that I was a good deal less appreciative, for they seemed to me like wartime bread and butter, better than nothing but not very exciting. Playing them again now after many years brings first, I suppose, quite powerful waves of nostalgia. “Say goodbye now to pastime and play, lad” (“Non piu andrai”) was day-to-day stuff for both BBC’s Home Service and Forces Programme on the wireless. When comedians performed their mock-operatic ‘Figaro, Figaro... Ring up the curtain’ act, it was Dennis Noble’s voice they had at the back of their minds. When we had music round the piano, the baritone uncles would sing “Even bravest tarts” (Noble or Peter Dawson again the model), and occasionally someone would join the baritone (as Webster Booth joins here) in a duet with the mysterious words “’Tis sagacious” (Il barbiere di Siviglia, Act 1). Dennis Noble’s was a household name... and we took him for granted.
Here we can rediscover him, and first the voice, so much more evenly and easily produced than I had remembered. Then we can recapture the trouper, the professional, in him, so good at his ‘Sergeant-Major on Parade’ voice for Mozart’s Figaro’s “chest out, shoulders back” instructions; and in the Barbiere duet he gives splendid euphoric dignity to the man “who the wine-cup can’t deny”. There was also the artist: who else, for instance, has recorded Valentin’s aria in Faust (even though a semitone low) with such fidelity to the homeliness of its sentiments and the restraint indicated by its score-markings?
These are excellent transfers, even of those 1930-ish Columbias that could be so choked and gritty on the original pressings. The choice is fine, except perhaps for the Columbia “Factotum”, which is sung in B flat, a whole tone down, and by no means as well as the 1939 version included in the complementary issue, “Stars of English Opera” (see below). The young voice is most pleasingly heard in