V2597. JOHN McCORMACK: A Patrician Artist - The Complete Electrical Recordings, 1926-42, plus all extant radio broadcasts, 1926-42, also featuring Lucrezia Bori, Maggie Teyte, Evelyn Laye, Eileen Joyce, etc., plus new restorations of all 57 of McCormack’s earliest recordings made on cylinder and disc in 1904 (several including McCormack's spoken introductions. [His spoken introductions are as revealing as the actual singing]). 16-Marston 51601, Handsome Boxed Set with Elaborate 163pp softbound book with essays and notes on the recordings by Gordon Ledbetter & Michael Aspinall. - 638335160122
“In his extensive note Ward Marston, analyzing the secret of McCormack’s enduring appeal, astutely observes that ‘John McCormack’s art commanded popular appeal in a way that completely transcended the actual music he sang….His magic was so potent that his records still exert an indefinable magnetic force and we can almost feel his presence in the room’….Pure listening pleasure apart, the importance of this wonderful set is that, together with the Odeon issues, it permits us to follow McCormack’s recording career over almost four decades….every known surviving selection transferred to the same criteria by the same transfer engineer….I can do no better than to quote from Haydn’s THE CREATION: ‘Achieved is the glorious work’.”
- Michael E. Henstock, THE RECORD COLLECTOR, 2019
"John McCormack needs no introduction to collectors who would be interested in such a trove of his perform’lovely vocal emission, breath control, musical intuition, clear and meaningful enunciation and constant discipline’, as well as two subtler skills, ‘a linear tension’ (courtesy of Gordon Ledbetter's JOHN MCCORMACK: THE PEOPLE'S TENOR) and ‘a sinuous, continuous but inflected and flexible line’. If we were to put all this together with other aspects of the man that feed into these traits - including (but not limited to) his excellent memory, a voracious appetite for music, both old and new, and a shrewd assessment of his own vocal and theatrical strengths and limitations - we can begin to acquire some understanding of how McCormack made the magic he wrought upon nearly everything he sung in his lengthy prime. In the end, though, something eludes us, and it is part of what draws us back to the tenor, knowing the same spell will be cast.
I'm not a believer in the theory that great musicianship can transform even trash, but McCormack is one of a very few artists in my experience who manages to do just that, time and again. Even though his qualities have been so well elaborated upon by Aspinall, there is remains something of unknown alchemy added to the mix that goes beyond analysis. Many other great and highly gifted singers, in my opinion, lack this. A very few, including McCormack, Schipa, and Vanni-Marcoux, can turn dross into beauty, and beauty into something ineffable that withstands shifts of time and taste.
Could he have done more classics? Absolutely. As much can be said about Schipa with his seemingly endless series of Italian and Spanish ephemera, in comparison to the classics. But as with Schipa, it is perhaps in McCormack's more popular fare that the tenor's strengths shine the most - when the music doesn't get in the way, so to speak. The qualities of the singer shine all the more brightly for what they can bring to material that is otherwise lacking.
Ward Marston discusses in print the problems he encountered locating good copies - or any copies - of some of this material, and how he sought to clean up each selection without significant interference with the music itself. This is easier said then done, even though today's computerized digital programs make changes less painfully than the analog of tape editing a couple of generations ago.
All matrix and record numbers are included, as well as dates, venues, recording companies, and accompanists, where available. Taken all together, this labor of love is a ‘must’ for the McCormack collector, or to any fancier of vintage opera and song that relishes great performances. This is a remarkable accomplishment in all respects, made greater still when one considers the varying (and sometimes very poor) condition of the surviving materials. Five stars it is, then.”
- Barry Brenesal, FANFARE
"When [McCormack] first came in, I sort of expected him to act as if he were ‘the World’s Greatest Tenor’. He did not. He just went and leaned up against the piano, and if he’d been in his own parlor at home, he couldn’t have been more simple. It seemed as though we were all one big family, and he was just talking to us, quietly, with his head a little on one side, and his eyes closed, telling us fairy tales as they came into his mind, making us smile and sigh by turns, weaving spells about us, and sometimes wringing our hearts by the pathos of his tones….Once he got settled by the piano he’d not shift his position at all, hardly; and you’d find yourself listening to that quiet soothing voice, that just came with no apparent effort, and seemed to be talking confidentially to each individual in the theatre."
- JAPAN TIMES, 5 May, 1926
"[McCormack] was an icon of the age, and the humanity in his art brought solace and consolation to countless numbers the world over. Not only with tears, for McCormack’s art encompassed gentle humour too. In the song ‘Off to Philadelphia’, the unfortunate emigrant was often interpreted as a figure of fun, a stage caricature. By contrast, McCormack, in his 1941 recording, identifies with the hapless traveller. The self-deprecating fun he pokes is all at himself, forlorn figure that he is, but the hope of one day returning home, though we are made to think it unlikely, is made in earnest. In ‘Molly Brannigan’ (1913), one of the most beguiling of all Irish folk songs, McCormack brings out the underlying truth that tragedy and comedy are two sides of the same coin.
His recorded output was immense. Posterity, however, cannot but regret what he never recorded. Perhaps the greatest singer of Mozart and Handel of his day, it is pitiful that he recorded less than a handful of their compositions. His concert programmes reveal a vast repertoire of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century songs, almost none of which he brought to the recording studio. Bach is barely represented; Scarlatti and Vivaldi not at all. One could go on. That said, his discography, for its idiomatic security, its consistency and versatility, and for the number of definitive recordings it contains, stands as one of the towering achievements in the history of sound recording. His records make the case for describing him as the greatest musician among singers of his time.
John McCormack had a voice of exquisite purity and a consummate vocal technique, yet perhaps his greatest gift was something else: for above the beauty of the voice and the technique, and even when the voice was no longer young and flexible, McCormack remained always a vividly communicative artist, among the most compelling vocal personalities of the twentieth century."
- Gordon T. Ledbetter, Program Notes