THE RECORD OF SINGING - Volumes 1-4 (from 1899 to the end of the 78 era)
EMI 28956 (10 disks) TT: 12 hours 50 min.

THE RECORD OF SINGING - Volume 5 (1953-2007)
EMI 28949 (10 disks) TT: app. 12 hours 49 min.

DAWN OF RECORDING - The Julius Block Cylinders
MARSTON 53011 (3 disks) TT: 3 hours 50 min.

A series of deluxe LP albums, The Record of Singing, was of incredible importance to collectors. It was EMI's Herculean effort to showcase the very best in vocal art in the first half of the century. The luxurious multiple-disk albums were a class act, lovingly presented and with profuse program notes. The first four volumes contained a total of 46 LPs, recordings made from 1899 to 1952. For complete contents, check this listing on ARKIVMUSIC. The recordings are rather arbitrarily arranged into different groupings that usually overlap considerably (The Old School, English-speaking Singers, The Emergence of Verismo, The German Style In Evolution, etc.). I don't know why they felt this had to be done—it adds nothing to the presentation and some might find it confusing. However, as a document of one of the major recording projects of the century, this is invaluable. We no longer have detailed information about each singer, but recording dates and venues are provided. And this is issued at budget price—a true bargain!

Volume 5 of The Record of Singing covers 1953-2007 and is a new compilation including recordings by many singers more familiar to today's audiences. Many of these were issued on LP in the pre-CD era, and most have already been issued on CD. John Steane made the repertory selection and admits it is arbitrary and could in no way be "complete" considering the scope of the subject and the fact that there are only 10 CDs. As with the previous issue, recordings are in varied groupings, and detailed information about each recording is included. For a complete listing of contents, check this listing on ARKIVMUSIC. And this also is budget price! Get both of them!

The Dawn of Singing is of incredible interest to collectors, the first release on CD of a series of recordings made by Joseph Block (1854-1934). Shortly after Edison invented cylinder recording, Block, fascinated by the process, traveled to Russia, Germany and Switzerland to record many of the leading artists of the time. Hundreds of cylinders were made from 1890 to 1927, although many have been lost. Master audio expert Ward Marston has resurrected many of the surviving ones and the results can be heard on this 3-disk set. Of course there is considerable surface noise, but one can overlook this considering importance of the performances. Block even made some recordings at a gathering in 1890 that included Tchaikovsky, who can be heard speaking briefly, and whistling (!). Anton Rubinstein was there, but refused to play, but we can hear a brief conversation between soprano Elena Gerhardt and Arthur Nikisch recorded in 1911, and Leo Tolstoy recorded in 1895. Prime interest of course is in the music which includes many virtually unknown but important singers, pianists Josef Hofmann and Egon Petri, and five recordings made in 1912 by 10-year old Jascha Heifetz, who a year earlier had made his debut with the Berlin Philharmonic. For more information about this fascinating issue and a complete track listing, visit MARSTON

R.E.B. (April 2009)