Immensely stirring: Edward Lloyd themselves by restricting the repertoire to material originally written in English. The textual projection from virtually everyone is exemplary. These singers truly take the time to shape the words, caring for nuance and mood. Listen, for example, to ‘Deeper and deeper still’, the lengthy recitative from Handel’s Jephtha, sung by John Harrison (1906). He gives it wonderful line-by-line specificity, with a voice excessively bright at full volume but otherwise very attractive.
The singers are presented in alphabetical order. As early as the second track, we hear from Webster Booth (1939) diction that is truly relished. In ‘The English rose’ from German’s Merrie England the clarity of his full-lyric tone impresses as strongly as does his unfailing sincerity—one’s heart is engaged instantly. He’s similarly persuasive in an aria from Boughton’s The Immortal Hour, singing with becoming intimacy to harp accompaniment.
Certainly many of these tenors lack genuine ring at the top. One exception is Tom Burke (1927), singing an aria from Arthur Goring Thomas’s Esmeralda with a rather colourless middle range but also an excitingly trumpeting upper register. When the high notes lack the necessary ease, most of the singers manage to compensate with fine tone in the rest of their range. Only here and there does one encounter an insufficiently ‘well-oiled’ voice, weighed down by disappointingly stiff phrasing—for
example, Joseph Cheetham (1912), singing ‘Total eclipse’ in what opera critics years ago used to call ‘great wodges of tone’.
Among so many lyric voices, the heftier ones offer a welcome change of pace. They include Elgar’s first Gerontius, the mighty Edward Lloyd, still immensely stirring in every utterance at age 59; Walter Hyde, who was that rare thing, a genuinely mellifluous Heldentenor; and, of course, Walter Widdop, with remarkable reserves of tone such as few if any other tenors have offered in ‘Love sounds th’alarm’ from Acis and Galatea.
The two most celebrated stars here are admirably true to form: McCormack, singing ‘When other lips’ from The Bohemian Girl with predictably flawless technique, exquisitely flowing legato and, of course, those famous rolled ‘r’s (‘you’ll rememberrrr me’); and Nash, whose four selections are highlighted by his classic version of ‘Waft her angels’, sung with splendidly firm control throughout.
Among the greatest surprises on these discs is Morgan Kingston, who starred at the Met from 1917 to 1924 (just imagine his competition at that time). What treasurable musicality and sincerity! Another marvellous singer is Frank Titterton, who has everything— consistently even and warm lyric tone that’s superb at both dynamic extremes, impeccable diction, a ringing top and an infectious joy in singing. Perhaps the most astonishing discovery of all is the female tenor Ruby Helder, whose concert repertoire included such arias as ‘Kuda, kuda’ and ‘La donna è mobile’. In her heyday (the 1910s and ’20s), a female Lensky or Duke of Mantua would have been inconceivable. In today’s increasingly gender-bending operatic world, however, Helder’s career might have been different, especially given her tonally stunning, technically immaculate instrument.
Here, then, is a revelatory set that I can heartily recommend. roger pines
Opera, May 2021