Issued – March 1995

After some delay since our previous, fifteenth issue, Historic Masters are pleased to announce the sixteenth issue of direct vinyl pressings produced in collaboration with Thorn EMI from 78rpm metal masters in their archives. The complete Historic Masters series now numbers 104 discs comprising 207 sides of which at least 54 have never previously been available in original form.

It is thanks to the unstinting co-operation of Ruth Edge and the EMI archives and also the work of many scholars and enthusiasts that we have been able to locate and issue so many otherwise ‘unpublished’ discs. We owe much to the superb discographical work of Alan Kelly. Indeed, as far as unpublished items are concerned, Historic Masters has been able to outperform same of our distinguished predecessor labels devoted to the re-issue of vocal 78s. In addition to unpublished material, we have also been able to re-issue many records which are particularly rare in their original form.

Readers of these notes are well used to our drawing attention to the problems associated with continuing production of vinyl 78rpm discs. First, there has been a vast reduction in vinyl producing capacity . Second, there are few engineers willing to tackle the specific and complex issues raised where the metal masters used are old and ‘non-standard’. In notes to the fifteenth issue, I promised to update subscribers on our efforts to ensure continued production. Since the inception of Historic Masters Limited, manufacture had been in the hands of Symposium Records and we remain extremely grateful for their work under the leadership of Eliot Levin, who is also a member of our own Committee. With effect from the current sixteenth issue manufacture has ‘gone back home’. Following extensive discussions between Michael Henstock, a new member of our Committee, and EMI Records, the latter have now agreed to turn the clock full circle by once again pressing the discs for Historic Masters (as they did for the original BIRS series).

This is, of course, wonderful news for Historic Masters and all our regular subscribers. However, we need to offer a word of warning. The arrangement with EMI Records is not necessarily, long term and many uncertainties remain. With the support of collectors we shall be endeavouring to make as many discs as possible available in the near future. The potential stock of usable metal masters will not run out!

We are constantly becoming aware of how many fine items still exist in the Thorn EMI archive. In this context, it is worth pointing out that Historic Masters is the only company in the world whose main purpose is to issue 78 rpm discs in original form and on a regular basis; we will undoubtedly be the last such company! It would be quite impossible for any collector to ‘find’ all the 207 items issued by Historic Masters in ‘original’ form and if they could, they would certainly have to spend a small fortune to acquire them.

The current issue again consists of six records available at the same price as other recent issues. In his liner notes Richard Bebb explains the background to the now regular, sixth record. We are all grateful to Dr. Stratton, for making this possible. Finally, we think a little celebration is in order for a Historic Masters milestone- 100. We are allotting this to two superlative titles by Nellie Melba, one of the truly great names of the golden age of recording.

Those of us involved with Historic Masters like to think that we will still be issuing records an a regular basis when we reach HM 200!

Stanley Henig (Secretary)


Prospectus, pitching decisions, speeds by Richard Bebb 

HM 99
Evgeni Witting (1884-1959)
Nyzhegorodzy (Napravnik) – Hello, Kremlin
Sadko – Duet between Sea Princess and Sadko (with Elena Katulskaya)

Witting has appeared in our series before, but the aria from Napravnik’s Nyzhegordzy is by far the finest example of his singing that I have yet heard. He sings here with bath passionate intensity and great authority. Witting is joined by the lovely Elena Katulskaya in the Sadko duet.

This is once again the gift of our mystery donor. But the time has at last come to reveal his identity. Dr. John Stratton, a professor at Toronto University, is a long-time record collector with a specality in (?) singers and music. The Committee would like to thank him most warmly for making available free to collectors so many fascinating records, and we are pleased to inform you that he has agreed to continue to bear the cost of additional records in the future. In effect, this means that our normal issue of five records has an additional disc added to it at no cost to either the Committee or to our customers. We are very grateful, and Dr. Stratton has been invited to join us officially on the Committee.

NB. For technical reasons, the label of this record does not include speeds. Both sides play at 77rpm.

HM 100
Dame Nellie Melba (1861-1931)
Arminio (Lotti) – Pur dicesti
Don Cesar de Bazan (Massenet) – Sevillana

Most of the original metals for Melba’s London recordings have been preserved in the Hayes archive and a number were issued by EMI (including some unpublished) in the last days of regular 78rpm production. Neither of these too titles have, however, been issued in 78rpm format before. They show contrasting sides of Melba’s art and artistry. The Sevillana from Don Cesar de Bazan is actually the first of four recordings made by Melba of which only the last was ever commercially published.

HM 101
Matteo Dragoni (1890-1962)
Il Tabarro – Scorri, fiume eterno
Gianni Schichi – In testa la cappellina

Many subscribers expressed, particular interest in a previous re-issue of two of Dragoni s records on Historic Masters (HM 40). As it happens, metals for almost all of his small output of recordings still exist at Hayes so we- thought another pair of arias would be welcomed. These were originally issued single sided, but were later doubled as DA 424. The version of Michele’s aria from II Tabarro is the first, starting with the words ‘Scorre, fiume eterno’. Puccini subsequently revised the music and insisted on changes to the words. (There are further details in Mosco Carner’s ‘Puccini: A Critical Biography’.) (Link to

HM 102
Lauritz Melchior (1890-1973)
Die Walkure- Bin Schwert verhiess mir der Vater
Die Walkure – Siegmund heiss ich (with Alice Guszalewicz)

These extremely rare recordings was made on June 19th 1928 with the Berlin State Opera Orchestra conducted by Leo Blech and with the assistance of Alice Guszalewicz in the few phrases of Sieglinde at the end of act one. They appear only to have been published in Germany as (Electrola – EJ.300/ES.456), and are both well recorded and extremely well sung. Yet, the following year also in Berlin the same forces (minus Guszalewicz) came together to record the same passages (EJ.471/ES.619/D.1700).

Why? The only explanation that occurs to me is that Melchior might have thought that his voice had not been well recorded, since it is doubtful that anyone would have noticed at the time that the correct playing speed is 76 rpm and that when it was played back at 78rpm,, the timbre of the voice would have been affected. Played at the right speed, this is Melchior at the height of his form.

HM 103
Hanna Granfelt (1884-1950)
Aidin silmit (Mother’s eyes) – (Nissinen-Hannikainen)
Ruusu pieni (Little Rose) – (Kilpinen)

Both sides sung in Finnish

The songs of Yrjo Kilpinen are not among the most attractive or melodious in the lieder repertory. It is therefore a great surprise to encounter a song of his as beautiful and immediately memorable as Ruusu pieni. As sung by Hanna Granfelt (also known as Lillian von Granfelt), it has long been a treasured possession of those few collectors lucky enough to have come across a copy or even to know of its existence. Like Kilpinen, she was Finnish, and, after study in Paris, made her debut in Mannheim. Her career was largely confined to Germany where she spent seven years at the Berlin State Opera, though she did sing at Covent Garden as Elsa in LOHENGRIN and in the title role of Raymond Roze’s opera, JOAN OF ARC in a series of performances financed by the composer in 1913. Her voice is immediately recognisable as one of first class quality. She recorded four sides in all for the Scandinavian HMV catalogue. Her only other known recordings are acoustic Schallplattes of four songs by Leo Blech and a series of excerpts from Wilhelm Klenzl’s, DIE KUHREIGEN. A magical record!

HM 104
Dmitri Smirnov (1881-1944)
Lohengrin – In fernem Land
Les Pecheurs de Perles – Je crois entendre

We have issued several recordings of this most imaginative and musical of Russian tenors in our series and it is good to know that many more exist in fine state in the Hayes archive. Both these titles were published albeit only in pre-revolutionary Russia; and the are, therefore, of the greatest rarity. Smirnov is one of an extremely small group of singers who appears never to have made an indifferent record let alone a bad one. Both arias are sung in Russian.

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