V2490. LE TRILLE UN ART PERDU (The Lost Art of the Trill), incl. Plançon, Escalaïs, Devriès, Dalmorès, Jadlowker, Abendroth, Sembrich, Schumann-Heink, Onégin, Schumann, Siems, Kurz, Patti, Butt, Ponselle, Caruso, Willer, Abendroth, Lemnitz, Leider, Lubin, Ritter-Ciampi, Schmidt & Ludwig Weber. [A delightful treat for canary fanciers, albeit not the complete arias listed, but merely excerpts (some extremely brief, indeed!)] (France) Malibran AMR 123.
“Lovers of opera of a certain age will always tend to lament ‘One no longer sings as before’, and they will always be right. The art of singing is constantly evolving. Now that we have a century of recording history, we are in a position to judge how techniques and styles have changed during this period, and how certain vocal skills have been lost or recovered.
The composers of the nineteenth century, from Verdi and Wagner to the authors of operettas and light music, considered the trill as an important expressive process, and expected all the singers, from the light soprano to the deep bass, capable of carrying it out. The trills of Brünnhilde in her war cry and the scene of her awakening express an ecstatic happiness, and those of Hagen in Act II of GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG reflect his malevolent joy. In modern representations, it is rare to get better than a symbolic gesture: the artist indicates that he knows that a trill is supposed to be there. The TROVATORE should be a treat for the trill fetishist, with numerous examples for three of the main protagonists, but who still knows today that the entrance air of the bass Ferrando understands, and that the ‘Stride la vampa’ is Azucena bristling with trills from beginning to end? For this tune, one must listen to Luise Willer, mezzo at the Munich Opera between the two wars: her Azucena has all the charisma of a Bavarian matron, but she does what is written and delivers us all the trills Verdi has wtitten.
The simple volume needed to be heard over the heavy orchestration of Wagner and his followers made it difficult for the singers to retain the vocal flexibility required by a good trill. But it was with the arrival of verismo at the end of the nineteenth century that the trill came to be regarded as artificial and anachronistic. Puccini in MANON LESCAUT and Strauss in ARIADNE AUF NAXOS use the trill as a form of local color to evoke the atmosphere of the eighteenth century precisely because of its archaic and artificial connotations. As composers' expectations decreased in trills, vocal skills also declined.
If we want to hear trills perfectly controlled and articulated, clearly released and finished, prolonged, swollen and diminished at will, we must go back to the recordings of the first years of the twentieth century. The singing bass Pol Plançon and the heldentenor Hermann Jadlowker offer us the gold standard for the masculine trill. With his stentorian voice, Léonce Escalaïs amazes us with the brilliance and clarity of his trill in an air of ROBERT LE DIABLE. Enrico Caruso surprises us with the beauty of his short trill in Handel’s ‘Ombra mai fu’, although the rarity with which he resorted to the trill in his large recorded repertory may also be a sign of the declining prestige of the trill in the period of verismo.
The German sopranos Irene Abendroth, Margarethe Siems and Selma Kurz take us to the strangest lands of virtuosity. The famous ‘Kurz trill’ (literally ‘short trill’) looks a bit like a circus number and irritates some colleagues of Kurz by its excessive length. Patti aged is an example of more clear perfection, and the spontaneity of Marcella Sembrich shows more ease. In the interwar years, many artists - Ponselle, Rethberg, Leider, Lubin, Endrèze and Joseph Schmidt, among others - were still capable of emitting a respectable trill. Sigrid Onégin and Gabrielle Ritter-Ciampi were exceptional because they had retained the virtuosity of the singers of an earlier era. Without anything shining, Elisabeth Schumann's trills have a little of Patti's refined balance. The trill which is the culmination of the MEISTERSINGER quintet was certainly never equaled afterwards. Even if they are not as precisely untied as those of his predecessors, David Devriès still provokes a surprising rapture with the rising series of trills he interprets in the ‘Reverie’ of George Brown.
In the 1940s, the trillium had become the almost exclusive property of specialized coloratura sopranos. Now that so many other bel canto skills have been reconquered, it is time for modern singers to start listening to these old recordings and become seriously involved!"
- Patrick Bade