John McCormack, Vol. IX;  Fritz Kreisler                (Naxos 8.111385)
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John McCormack, Vol. IX;  Fritz Kreisler                (Naxos 8.111385)
V2017. JOHN McCORMACK, Vol. IX,: The Acoustic Recordings, 1920-23, incl. Songs by Schumann, Rachmaninoff, Sullivan, Marshall, Hirsch, Sanders, Robledo, Lyman, Simons, Barnby, Nicholls, Merikanto, Openshaw, Grofé, Wiggers, Squire, Ayer, Lockwood, Dickson, etc.; SEMELE – 'O Sleep! Why dost thou leave me?' (Handel); duets (w.Kreisler) by Rachmaninoff, Kramer & Johnson. (Germany) Naxos 8.111385. Transfers by Ward Marston. - 747313338528


"Then there is that almost legendary record of 'O sleep! why dost thou leave me' with its delicious short trill, and the long, long run on the word 'wandering' which is said later in life to have provoked from the tenor the admiring cry 'By God, it can't be done'."

- J.B. Steane, THE GRAND TRADITION, pp.58-59

“By 1920 John McCormack had already, probably wisely, abandoned his operatic career as long ago as 1913 in order to preserve his light voice and concentrate on concert recitals. He retained a few operatic items such the celebrated account here of ‘O Sleep! Why Dost Thou Leave Me’. However, for the most part he sang a judicious mixture of traditional and popular ballads, hymns, art songs and Lieder, all of which are represented here. The bulk of them would come under the category of what McCormack ironically and defensively referred to as ‘muck’ when defending himself against high-brow critics who alluded slightingly to his populist repertoire.

It has to be said that even the most dedicated admirer of McCormack’s silvery, liquid tenor might tire after nearly eighty minutes of a programme featuring a preponderance of what some might call the slightest of ditties. They are elevated by the unearthly beauty of his singing and the sincere, yet roguish, charm of his brogue. I can never hear either the Irish songs or even the Handel aria sung by anyone else without bringing to mind the peculiar purity of McCormack’s pronunciation of ‘your’ as ‘yoor’. Nor, for that matter, can anyone else sing ‘My wandering love’ as McCormack does here, with its effortless, unearthly floated melismata over six, extended, four-beat measures. He then complements that vocal feat with a perfectly poised concluding, A-flat on ‘restore’. You have no time to recover from that before, in track three, you hear another example of McCormack’s consummate art in his elegantly restrained account of Schumann’s ‘The Singer’s Consolation’. I would argue that this recital is worth the money for those tracks alone. There is undoubtedly something of a wrench when we segue from ‘the brown little lad with a freckled nose’ in track 1 to the Handel, the Schumann and then back to ‘The Next Market Day’. It’s the same voice with the same pellucid diction and the same plangent delicacy of tone.

For all that, much of this disc is dedicated to sentimental ballads, in addition to the Handel and Schumann we have three passionate, soulful Rachmaninov songs. In two of these, McCormack is partnered by the sweet-toned Fritz Kreisler who provides a haunting violin obbligato. All the singing here is stellar: time and again, the tenor’s vocalism is a thing of wonder. The pianissimo concluding B-flat in ‘Since You Went Away’ or the floated As in his signature-tune ‘I Hear You Calling Me’ are both simply breathtaking. It is too easy from our modern perspective to deride the sentimentality of ‘In that dear little town in the ould County Down’ or ‘Mother in Ireland’, but our own popular culture is hardly innocent of mawkishness, and McCormack knew his market. To provide some dignity and balance, we have a couple of overtly pious hymns grandly sung to stately tunes and Sullivan’s famous ‘The Lost Chord’, de rigueur for all singers of any note of that era, including Caruso and Dame Clara Butt; McCormack need not fear comparison with their very different versions.

The transfers by Ward Marston are exemplary; the sound gives rise to no listening fatigue. As usual, no texts are provided but such is the clarity of McCormack’s diction you don’t need them. There is a long and informative essay by John Scarry. [This recital] contains gems sung by a voice which for sheer quality in its category can only be spoken of in the same breath as Schipa, Vinogradov and Wunderlich.”

- Ralph Moore, musicWebinternational

“It must be ten years or more since Naxos began this McCormack series, and with Volume 9 we have reached the years 1920–1923. Born in Ireland in 1884, John McCormack shared with Caruso the position of the most famous tenors of their time. He was originally self-taught, later moving to take professional training in Italy. It was there he started his career appearing in provincial opera houses, before returning to the UK where he joined London’s Covent Garden gaining a reputation as a lyric tenor. The popularity he created was transferred to North America where he became a particular favourite among audiences at the Metropolitan Opera. He was never able to rid himself of a strong Irish tang in his voice and, by his own admission, was a wooden and dreadful actor. He soon realised that he should draw his stage career to an early conclusion, and from his mid-thirties sang only in the concert hall. Yet to the majority of people, his success came singing ballades in a profusion of discs. The present CD covers the period after he had left opera and was now happy to sing musical trifles often to banal words. You will certainly find three beautiful sung songs by Rachmaninov—two with Fritz Kreisler playing violin—and from Handel’s SEMELE, ‘O Sleep! Why Dost Thou Leave Me’. If the disc is intended for the ‘pop’ nostalgia market, with such evergreens as ‘I hear you calling me’ and ‘The Lost Chord’, McCormack certainly knew how to please those listeners with his lightweight voice. Whether with orchestral or piano accompaniments, these new transfers from Ward Marston go far beyond any previous McCormack release I have encountered.”

- David Denton, David's Review Corner