V2420. MATTIA BATTISTINI: The Complete Recordings, 1902-24 - G & T, Gramophone Company & La Société Suisse des Disques Phonographiques d’Art, Zürich, plus an 1898 Berlin cylinder; GIUSEPPE BELLANTONI: 11 Fonotipia recordings, 1910-11. 6-Marston 56002, recorded 1902-24. Transfers by Ward Marston. 66pp. Program Notes by Michael Aspinall. - 638335600222
“The chronological arrangement of the commercial recordings reveals that over a twenty-six year span Battistini’s voice, shown to advantage in transfers of the usual Marston high standard, was almost – if at all – untouched by time and that his style was similarly unaltered....All the most difficult arias of the bel canto school appear under his name, sung as no other baritone could have sung them....After more than fifty years of being enthralled by Battistini this reviewer still finds, in many of his records, new beauties, fresh nuances. The baritone Giuseppe Bellantoni’s…voice is warm and sonorous. Like Battistini’s, his higher notes are almost tenor-like and, like the older man, has a winning way with songs....Bellantoni deserves greater exposure.”
- Michael E. Henstock, THE RECORD COLLECTOR, 2015
“Any list of the most important vocal recordings ever made would have to include those by the great baritone Mattia Battistini, recordings made between 1902 and 1924. Including unpublished and alternate takes, there are 116 in all. In addition, Marston has published for the first time ever a fragment of Wagner’s ‘Evening Star’ aria from TANNHÄUSER made on a Berlin cylinder in 1898. Vocal collectors know these records and treasure them, and have long admired EMI’s seven-disc LP set. Ward Marston himself began producing a CD transfer for Romophone, but that company folded. Now, he has finished what may have been one of his life’s dreams, and done it with his usual skill.
[Battistini’s] voice is significantly more vivid here than on the EMI set, and serious vocal collectors will find this a ‘must-have’. Marston’s own notes, plus the essay by Michael Aspinall, are major plusses. But it is the recordings themselves, and Marston’s stunning transfers, that hold our attention. In fact, what I found was a growing appreciation of the greatness of this singer. In THE GRAND TRADITION, John Steane’s comments ring true: ‘With this superbly economical definition of tone he could ‘bind’ his phrases with the utmost evenness. It was his virtuoso’s command over the instrument that led him to mark his performances with an almost reckless variety of dynamics. There is a rococo luxuriance about his style, but the technique which enabled him to develop it was formed by classical disciplines’.
The first thing that strikes one is that legato - seamless and evenly produced in all parts of the range. Secondly, one notes that even in his final recordings, made when he was 68, the voice is still firm and strong, and that legato and breath control remain intact. As pure singing, these recordings are a demonstration of vocal virtues. But what actually impresses most is the vivid personality of the singing. Battistini sang in an era when performers were permitted (even encouraged) to take more liberties. He never goes over the boundary of bad taste, but everything here is rendered with a vividness and a musical imagination that are remarkable. The long-held diminuendo that concludes Tosti’s ‘Amour’, is jaw-dropping. ‘Largo al factotum’ from THE BARBER OF SEVILLE is astonishingly agile as well as both charming and witty. Just when you want to type him as a typical bel canto singer, you come to the powerful ‘Te Deum’ from TOSCA, and realize that he must have been a towering Scarpia.
Battistini was born in 1856, and made his professional début in 1878, 23 years before Verdi’s death. Along with Fernando de Lucia (born in 1860) he is one of the earliest singers to leave a truly significant legacy of recordings, providing evidence of the vocal training and the performance style of the 19th Century. Battistini’s records, however, while they can be listened to by scholars, singers, and vocal teachers for the lessons they teach, should be heard by most of us for the sheer pleasure they provide. The utter mastery of his instrument, and the unfailingly imaginative musical instincts that he possessed, bring a consistency of vocal beauty and vocal thrills that anyone who cares about singing will find irresistible. These are recordings to be enjoyed more than studied, though the studies will provide real knowledge.
The range of music in this collection is surprisingly wide. Battistini shows himself to be comfortable with the bel canto and verismo styles, at home with Verdi, a master of French music (Massenet actually revised WERTHER for him in 1902 to make possible a baritone singing the title role), and at home in Wagner. In 1879 he was scheduled to sing the Herald in LOHENGRIN in Rome. Wagner came to supervise the production, heard Battistini, and insisted that he be promoted to the role of Telramund. And his way with the lighter world of Neapolitan songs is magnificent too. His career was a triumphant one from beginning to end. It is reliably reported for example, and noted in Aspinall’s notes, that in 1912 singing the title role in RIGOLETTO, the audience response was so enthusiastic that he had to encore every number in the opera.
Among the highlights in this set is one of the finest recordings ever made of ‘Di Provenza’ from LA TRAVIATA. It displays evenness of tone throughout, a natural sense of phrase-shaping that respects and amplifies the flow of the music, and terrific characterization of the dramatic element. Battistini was clearly a powerful vocal actor, and all reports from critics during his career indicate that he was also a great physical actor. His 1902 recording of Valentin’s ‘Avant de quitter’ from FAUST is one of the finest examples ever of sustained legato, and is rendered with a hushed beauty that draws you in completely. Listening to his exquisite recordings of ‘Pourquoi me réveiller’ from WERTHER, or the duet ‘Baigne d’eau mes mains et mes lèvres”’ from THAÏS with soprano Attilia Janni, and ‘Vision fugitive’ from HÉRODIADE make clear why Massenet was willing to re-write WERTHER for him.
His scenes from ERNANI are models of Verdi singing, shaped with a sure instinct that never calls attention to itself, but rather makes the listener feel that this is the way the music must go. His 1911 recording of Wagner’s ‘Evening Star’from TANNHÄUSER will make you catch your breath with its beauty. As one listens to more and more, one becomes aware of Battistini’s intelligent and effective use of portamento, always tasteful but used more liberally than would be the case in later generations. He also uses vibrato as an expressive device, intensifying it to communicate passion, minimizing or eliminating it to communicate desolation. He had as masterful a control over his instrument as any singer on record. It is worth noting that virtually everything is sung in Italian. But in any language, this is the singing of genius.
Because Marston always likes to offer filled out CDs, he has added as an appendix ten recordings by baritone Giuseppe Bellantoni, a singer with whom I was not familiar. Bellantoni is from the subsequent generation (1880-1946) and you can hear the reduction in portamento and perhaps a touch less interpretive freedom. But he was an imaginative singer with a resonant baritone voice, and it is a pleasure to make his acquaintance here.
I could go on and on, but won’t. The fact is that this set is essential for serious collectors of vocal recordings. Even if you have Keith Hardwick’s EMI LPs, the more vivid sound of Marston’s production justifies replacement. Everything about this set is a model of how to make available an important historic legacy.
In addition to the superb notes and commentary, there is complete documentation about recording locations and dates, and accompaniments.”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
"[Regarding Mattia Battistini’s record of Tosti’s 'Ancora'], although I had heard records of Tosti songs before, I had never heard this one and had certainly never heard anything like Battistini’s singing. This great artist had taken this undistinguished song and made of it a work of sublime artistry. I had absolutely no idea that a human voice could weave such a spell. I will never forget that day’s experience, which has set me on the path of collecting records by golden age singers for the past forty years. It is my sincere hope that this compilation will reach a young audience of music enthusiasts, giving them a first chance to hear one of the greatest singers on record, perhaps awakening them to the magic that changed my life so many years ago."
- Ward Marston
"Battistini's recordings are such exemplars of fine singing that it is hard to pick out individual instances of excellence....What is evident from the records is that he was a vocal actor of the highest quality, defining character and situations closely in terms of tonal nuance....Such artistic completeness is rare, affirming Battistini's status as one of those singers whose complex, searching interpretative powers merit the fullest exploration."
- George Hall, INTERNATIONAL CLASSIC RECORD COLLECTOR, Spring, 1998
“Giuseppe Bellantoni began his education in Messina, then became a pupil of the famous Antonio Cotogni in Rome. His stage début took place in 1905 at the Teatro Vittorio Emanuele in Messina as Renato in UN BALLO IN MASCHERA. He moved himself later basically to the dramatic and above all to the Wagner's repertoire and became one of the most significant representatives of this vocal field in Italy. In 1907 he sang at La Scala as Alberico in GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG. In 1911 he again performed at La Scala, but this time in SIEGFRIED. In 1912 he appeared at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome as Enrico in LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR. In 1913 he sang at the Teatro Regio in Parrma in NABUCCO and AÏDA. In 1918 Bellantoni appeared at the Teatro Comunale in Bologna as Amonasro and as Germont in LA TRAVIATA. In 1919 he guested at the Teatro Comunale of Forli, again as Germont. In 1927 he sang at the Teatro Municipale in Piacenza. Bellantoni appeared also at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires in 1908. He finished his stage career approximately in 1930.”
- Hans Lick