Songs You Love/Love Songs/Songs From Sunny Italy – Richard Tucker, tenor /Robert Merrill, baritone /Jan Peerce, tenor /Columbia Concert Orchestra/Alfredo Antonini/Russ Case and His Orchestra/Orchestra cond. by Warner Bass – Dutton Vocalion

by | Jul 24, 2009 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Songs You Love/Love Songs/Songs From Sunny Italy – Richard Tucker, tenor (Italy)/Robert Merrill, baritone (Songs You Love)/Jan Peerce, tenor  (Love Songs)/Columbia Concert Orchestra/Alfredo Antonini/Russ Case and His Orchestra/Orchestra cond. by Warner Bass

Dutton Vocalion CDVS 1952, 71:36 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

To hear the great lyric tenor Richard Tucker (1913-1975) in Neapolitan song may not quite suggest the same “authenticity” as hearing Giuseppe Di Stefano or Franco Corelli in this repertory, but we must recall Tucker reigned as “America’s greatest tenor” who took resonant pride in his Italian sobs. Tucker opens with an idiomatic “Torne a Sorrento” by De Curtis, then melts us with more De Curtis in “Non ti scordar di me,” the sobs of possible rejection right on cue. Has director Martin Scorsese heard these? Tucker drifts in to the spinto range for the deeper (and higher) tones of “Mamma mia, che vo sape?” “Lolita” has castanets and a habanera rhythm, almost the Spanish Dance from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. A special sentimentality reigns in Bixio‘s “Torna, piccina,” as the persona pleads for his little dear one, his little beauty to return. “O sole mio” by Di Capua hardly needs my commentary, but if Tucker decides to give Gigli a run for his lire, who am I to deny him? Impeccable diction and a natural strength of voice make this moment of sunshine a powerful Mediterranean restorative.  Tucker concludes with a rousing version of Rossini’s patter-tarantella “La Danza,” the eighth of the Musical Soirees. I compare this “accented” whirlpool on a par with Bjoerling’s equally idiosyncratic irreplaceable version.

Robert Merrill (1917-2004), the baritone who would rather have played shortstop in Brooklyn, reminds us that his lyric amiable voice came in tandem with other supreme baritones, Lawrence Tibbett, Paul Robeson, Leonard Warren, and John Charles Thomas. Victor Herbert’s “I’m falling in love with someone” waltz receives the Hollywood treatment, harps and gushing strings. “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life” reminds us of the work he did with Jeanette MacDonald, the clarity of his voice, the warm expanse of his vocal line quite thrilling. While not Fritz Wunderlich, Merrill delivers the glossy English-language equivalent of Lehar’s “Yours is my heart alone” in a subdued Sinatra-style declamation with shimmering strings and harp, though Russ Case is no Robert Stoltz. “Sylvia” proves more tasteful, though, like its successor, “Trees” (words by Kilmer), I find it mannered kitsch. Irving Berlin’s “Always” remains a sweet strophic waltz, and Merrill gives it the Bing Crosby treatment. For his last two cuts, Merrill takes a sly, rustic page from Robeson with “Jonah and the whale,” as arranged by MacGimsey. A little Bible, a little scat, a touch of soul, and we’ve got a hit. “Down to de rivah” can only refer to the Jordan, where he can rise up “wid de spirit in my soul.” Halleluia, brother! [Why is it I find this horribly racist, but still love Porgy and Bess?…Ed.]

Jan Peerce (1904-1984), Toscanini’s favorite tenor, begins his relatively short set with “A dream” by Bartlett, a real moment for an Irish tenor, which proves no challenge to Peerce’s virile, idiomatic diction. Geehl’s “For you alone” is another British Isles attempt to recreate Neapolitan song in the northern climes.  In two songs, “I love you truly” and “Kashmiri song,” violinist John Corigliano of the New York Philharmonic adds the obbligato part for added schmerz or schmaltz, depending on one’s sentiments. Coincidental: that this reissue surfaces just as Pristine publishes Corigliano’s appearance with Guido Cantelli in the New York Philharmonic version of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. “A little love, a little kiss” enjoys a plain-spoken sincerity, no gimmicks–a bit of a turn on “you love me”–the perfect vehicle for an appearance on “The Voice of Firestone” broadcasts.  “Kashmiri Song” is strictly Hollywood Ali-Baba music, a romantic moment for a film starring Cornel Wilde or Jean-Pierre Aumont. Finally, Grieg’s “Ich liebe dich,” in English, a Scandinavian proclamation of love in the same affect as Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s equally famous sonnet.

Not “The Three Tenors” but a 1940s tribute to three great singers from the Jewish tradition in mainstream classic song, their own vocal Kosher Nostra.

–Gary Lemco

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