Issued – May 1997

Image: Vladimir Kastorsky (1871-1948) HM 120

Vladimir Kastorsky
Vladimir Kastorsky
Historic Masters are able to announce the nineteenth issue of direct vinyl pressings produced in collaboration with EMI from original 78 rpm metal masters in their archives. Our complete catalogue now numbers 122 discs, comprising 243 sides. Of these no less than 64 have never previously been available in 78 rpm format. Both in respect of the size and range of catalogue and in the number of previously unpublished discs, Historic Masters has now surpassed the activities of many of the pioneering historic labels such as the HMV Archive and the Addison Foster series. To date 99 different singers have been featured on our records.

The new series includes four items not previously available in original form. Indeed, the Smirnov items were until recently completely unknown. The Farrar item dates from the very earliest days of sound recording.

Historic Masters has enjoyed the co-operation of many individuals without whom our work would be impossible. These include Ruth Edge and the staff of the EMI archive and Alan Kelly, master of the art of discography. Historic Masters discs are now being manufactured at the re-sited EMI factory in Hayes.

Collectors hardly need reminding that it is now more than 40 years since regular production of 78 rpm discs ceased. It is of course also a decade since the introduction of the CD. In this context it seems almost a miracle that we have so far found ways to continue our activities. However, nothing can be taken for granted. EMI make available the metal masters and produce the finished product. We are dependent on our customers and it is essential that we sell the bulk of each issue.

It is sometimes suggested that collectors would prefer a system under which discs were individually available. We have examined the possibility but it would be financially unviable. There is also, inevitably, some criticism of the choice of discs.

It may be worth explaining the process of decision. We frequently submit long lists of desirable material to the Archive who check availability of metal parts. Obviously our lists are made up of items previously unpublished or which had only limited circulation and they often include suggestions made by our subscribers.

Over the years around 80% of the items requested turn out not be be availalbe! Just ‘for the record’, there are no longer any metals of Caruso’s Zonophones, Bellincioni G&Ts, Abendroth or Siems (except the one we published). Where the metals do exist, tests are made. This is a cumbersome and not inexpensive process since the metals for many of the early discs are of non-standard size. The members of our committee listen individually and sometimes collectively to the tests. Some are rejected for condition. Sometimes – especially with hitherto unpublished items – they are rejected as unworthy mementoes of the artist in question.

Ultimately only about one third of the records which are tested are placed on a long list for subsequent publication.

Then we have to select records for a particular series and we aim to achieve some kind of balance against type of voice, nationality of singer and musical content. In the final analysis we can only issue records where metals are available and in good condition. Whilst I haven’t made a full count, I would estimate that we have, over the last twenty years, since our original launch by the British Institute or Recorded Sound, made enquiries about some thousands of recordings. The result of our efforts can be seen in the 243 sides issued to date.

It may be worth making one other point. New discoveries are constantly being made, like the Smirnov items in this issue. EMI is a world wide organisation and it is more than likely that there are untapped archival resources outside the UK. We believe that Historic Masters has a mission to carry on with its work so long as it is possible to manufacture what we collectors call the ‘gramophone record’. We can only do this with the continued support of the collecting world, so please order promptly!

The current issue again consists of six records. As on previous occasions Professor John Stratton has donated an additional record. We are all extremely grateful for his ongoing generosity.

Subscribers will recall our recent referendum on English singers. It is our hope that the next – twentieth – series of Historic Masters will include two free discs. One of these wil be a disc of English singers previously available only in very noisy shellac pressings. In effect this means our subscribers will receive seven records for the price of five.

Stanley Henig


Prospectus, pitching decisions and speeds by Richard Bebb 

HM 117

LE PROPHETE (meyerbeer)
Re del cielo
Speed 77

Un di ali’azzuro spazio
Speed 77

Matrices 3006 and 3007 FT
Recorded in Sousa, Italy in February 1903
Previously unpublished

Our subscribers will have noticed that, at fairly regular intervals, Historic Masters has offered examples of the unpublished takes of Francesco Tamagnois 1903 recording sessions. (See our Tamagno issue) It is our aim in the course of time to make available every one of the surviving unpublished masters, several of which contain slightly different music from the published versions. The immediacy and impact of these records can be attributed to the fact that the masters are in unused state, but Tamagno also possessed vocal qualities that cannot be compared with any other tenor of his time or since. What he offered to the musical public remains unique. In the true meaning of the word he is still incomparable.

HM 118
IGNACY DYGAS (1881-1947)

Speed 80
Matrix 1773ae
Date and place of recording unknown

Fahr wohll Trautgesell
Speed 73
Matrix 2496 L
Recorded in Berlin in 1904
Issued as G&T 43632

This may seem an unusual coupling. It brings together what would appear, unfortunately, to be the only master that exists at Hayes of the highly gifted tenor Ignacy Dygas with the sole survivor in the archive of a series of eleven recordings (mostly duets with Wilhelm Gruning) made by the young Geraldine Farrar in Berlin in 1904 only a matter of days after * the world premiere of Leoncavallo’s opera.

Dygas made his debut in Warsaw – the city of his birth – in Moniuszko’s Halka in 1905. It seems probable that this recording was made about that time, so the voice is at its very freshest. His international career began in 1907, and he sang all over Italy at the best theatres, in South America, Spain and Russia. He always took leading dramatic roles, including a goad deal of Wagner. Very few collectors own any of his records in original form.

Roland von Berlin was written to an Italian text but was first performed in German at the Berlin Staatsaper an December 13th 1904 with a cast which included Emmy Destinn and Wilhelm Gruning. It seems likely that Farrar was Destinn’s cover and that she was chosen to make these recordings for G&T because Destinn was under contract to Odeon for whom the three major creators all made recordings from the new opera.

(* NB Historic Masters apologises for the dating error on the record label.)

HM 119
DMITRI SMIRNOV (1881-1944)

THE SNOW MADEN (Rimsky-Korsakov)
Cavatina of Tsarya Berendy
Speed 76
Matrix 179356

LAKME (Delibes)
AN Viens dans la foret profonde
Speed 78
Matrix 17934b
Recorded in St Petersburg October 1913
Both sides previously unpublished

The gloriously inventive and imaginative recordings of Dmitri Smirnov have been a recurring feature of the issues of Historic Masters. (See our HM Catalogue by Artists for more on Smirnov) These two wonderful recordings have never hitherto been published and indeed the metal masters have only recently been discovered to exist at Hayes.

Why they should never have been issued is a complete mystery, as they are of the finest quality both artistically and technically.

HM 120

QUEEN OF SPADES (Tchaikovsky)
Tamsky’s aria
Speed 76 Matrix 4992L, recorded in St. Petersburg 1907

They Guess the Truth
Speed 76 Matrix 4959L, recorded in St. Petersburg 1907

The firmness and glamour of Kastorsky’s tone and the tremendous, energy of his singing distinguish all his wonderful recordings. Who has ever, heard one of them without being enthralled by his intensity and commitment? Though the competition was fierce from many other superb Russian basses of the time, Kastorsky seems to radiate the same star personality which lifted Ezio Pinza to the pinnacle of fame among his contemporaries in a later generation.

Both these pressings are of outstanding quality, and, fortunately, several more masters are available for possible future issue.

HM 121

Estrellita (Pance)
Speed 78
Matrix BS 2260-1,
Recorded in Barcelona in April 1926
Issued as HMV DA 772

Mi Niria (Guetary)
Speed 78 Matrix 8S 2252-t
Recorded in Barcelona in April 1928
Issued as HMV DA 772

The five double sided 10″ records of Spanish and Mexican songs, made by this exquisite soprano were only ever issued in Spain. These late acoustic recordings reached the market as electrical recording became standard and this may well explain their extreme rarity. They are a delight, and considerably enhanced by the piano accompaniments of Frederico Longo, a composer of many beautiful songs. Pareto never made a bad record, and these examples of her singing fully justify the admiration expressed for her voice and her art by Sir Thomas Beecham.

HM 122

Nobles seigneurs, salut
Speed 78 Matrix 318af
Recorded in Moscow on 13 April 1914
Issued as HMV 023154
Sung in Russian

Parla (Arditi)
Speed 79 Matrix 2605c
Recorded in Moscow on 24 April 1912
Issued as HMV 023016
Sung in Russian

These two superb Neshdanova sides are another gift from our sponsor, Dr John Stratton. Like Smirov, Neshdanova has often featured in our series of re-issues.

What more can be said about this lovely soprano, other than these are yet more examples of her exquisite singing. The Archive at Hayes is particularly rich in their Neshdanova holdings and, hopefully, we may be able to re-issue yet more titles.

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