Verdi: Il Trovatore
Il Trovatore is an indestructible opera, and a strong performance can make it as exciting as anything in all musical theater. This recording depends for its success on the raw power and vitality of Verdi’s score rather than on any special strength or polish on the part of its individual participants. Even though none of the leading singers manages to impose his personality on the music, there is a brilliant sense of style and ensemble, not to mention enthusiasm, and plenty of dramatic fire. Aside from Verdi’s music, the strongest positive factor is undoubtedly the cightyfive-year-old conductor, Tulio Scrafin, who directs with a snap and decisiveness that have been lacking from his recordings in recent years.
The Civil War: Its Music and Its Sounds, Volume 2
Frederick Fennell conducting Eastman Wind Ensemble; Battery B, 2nd New Jersey Light Artillery; Gerald C. Stowe, Military Adviser; Martin Gabel, narrator; Mercury LBS 2-902 (stereo) and LPS 2-502: two records This is the most varied, informative, and listenable of Civil War albums, surpassing Mercury’s own Volume 1. Its appeal is, first and foremost, musical, with the Eastman Wind Ensemble performing marches and songs of the time upon instruments of the time. Among the fascinating numbers are a quickstep fashioned by Claudio Grafulla (the Sousa of his day) from Verdi’s opera l rn Ballo in Alaschera, and an arrangement of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which omits the customary repeat of the first eight bars and which introduces a delightful cornet flourish at the word “wave” in the line “O say does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave.” Using actual marching instruments of the epoch, including ovcr-the-shoulder horns, Frederick Fennell’s musicians perform with tremendous verve and brilliance; Sherman’s men could not have played “Marching Through Georgia” with such clan. Of less musical interest, but stirring in their own way. are Union and Confederate bugle signals and drum calls. The fourth side of the album is devoted to a spoken summary of the last years of the war and to the sounds of Civil War firearms, recorded at special sessions at Gettysburg and West Point. The accompanying brochure supplements the music with pictures and an unusually well-written text.
The Dream Duet
Anna Moffo, soprano, and Sergio Franchi, tenor, with orchestra conducted by Henri Rene; RCA Victor LSC-2675 (stereo) and LAI-2675
Any recording that flatly announces it seeks to emulate the Jeanette MacDonald-Nelson Eddy repertoire of the 1930s is bound to risk the resistance of (a) those who feel that nobody will ever replace Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy and (b) those who feel that a first-rate opera singer has no business getting mixed up with lesser music. The fears of both factions can be allayed. To the Friml-Romberg-Victor Herbert repertoire Anna Moffo and Sergio Franchi bring musical balance and interpretive warmth. Listening to their voices intertwining in Romberg’s “One Alone” or alternating in Lehar’s “Yours Is My Heart Alone,” one senses a rare pleasure in, as well as understanding of, the art of duet singing. And the songs, set forth without undue sentimentality, arc as smooth and graceful as ever. Miss MacDonald. Mr. Eddy, move over.
Edgar Lee Masters: Spoon River Authology
Charles Aidman, director, with Betty Garrett, Robert Elston. Joyce Van Patten, Hal Lynch, and Naomi CarylHirshhorn; Columbia OS-2110 (stereo) and OL-6010
Hardly anyone now reads Spoon River Anthology-, Edgar Lee Masters’ collection of poetic epitaphs summing up the tragedies and ironies of life in a small Illinois village. But it created a literary sensation in 1915 and for a while set a literary fashion. Now it has reappeared in the form of a theatrical version, produced first on the U.C.L.A. campus and later on Broadway. This is a recording of that production, with the poems of Minerva Jones, Doc Meyers, Lucinda Matlock, Anne Rutledge, the Village Atheist, and the rest spoken against a background of evocative songs written by Naomi Caryl Hirshhorn and Charles Aidman. The actors of the cast do a remarkable job of creating with their voices the characters they portray, in effect turning Masters’ poems into people. At times the production, which includes 40 of the original 240 poems, verges on the self-consciously homespun, but its cumulative impact is powerful. Through this recording, Spoon River, once as dead and buried as its characters, seems likely to gain a new life and a new audience.
The Sea at Castle Hill; The Alexander Hamilton of lhe Hudson River Day Line
Droll Yankees DY-15 (monaural)
Droll Yankees Inc. is the name of a record company in Providence, Rhode Island (P.O. Box 2355), whose owner, Peter Kilham. puts out such records as please him. In “The Sea at Castle Hill” it has pleased him to record the sound of the rollers breaking upon the Rhode Island shore along with the mewing of seagulls and the tolling of bell buoys. Then, after twenty minutes or so, a human voice is heard — a basso in an old recording singing a snatch of that ancient sea ballad “When the bell in the lighthouse rings, ding-dong.” The other side is devoted to sounds of the clanking. machinery and hooting whistles of a Hudson River Day Line sidewheeler on a journey to Bear Mountain, New York. Collectors of nostalgia may treasure the trip up the Hudson, just as they cherish recordings of steam locomotives. As for the Castle Hill recording, it at least enables one to ponder in comfort the poet’s question: “What are the wild waves saying Sister, the whole day long?”