"To think these 27 selections were recorded nearly 100 years ago! Record making was still in its teething stages when Enrico Caruso first stood before the acoustic horn in 1902. Yet your attention quickly gets past the myriad sonic and musical blemishes (probably unnoticeable then, and irrelevant now) and zeros in on the voice. You might start with his first Celeste Aida (from April 1902), more tender and wistfully lyrical than the singer’s emphatic, slightly impatient remake later in the year. Bask in Una Furtiva Lagrima’s endless line and lilting ornaments, or indulge the singer’s heartfelt sobs at the climax of E Lucevan le Stelle. It’s important to realize that this was contemporary music to Caruso. Indeed, Giordano’s Amor ti Vieta and Cilèa’s No, Più Nobile feature their respective composers at the piano. More to the point, Caruso infuses all he sings with resplendent directness and generosity, forging a style that quickly became the archetype for all Italian tenors. Ward Marston’s transfers of these first sessions are noisier but more evenly equalized than William Moran’s for RCA’s complete Caruso edition. ...at Naxos’ budget price, you can hardly go wrong. This is the best sounding single-disc incarnation of these sessions."
Jed Distler - ClassicsToday.com
"A bargain price, general availability... The result is a triumph... Those who are serious about historic recordings might wish to sample Naxo’s sound to determine whether they will wish to replace their older sets... Since this series reflects the chronological order of Caruso’s recordings, this first volume naturally includes his earliest records- the ones made between 1902 and 1903. A direct comparison with the RCA and Pearl transfers of the same records showed, track after track, the superiority of Marston’s [the engineer] latest work for Naxos... For serious vocal collectors the idea of having a complete Caruso edition should be a no-brainer, especially at Naxo’s budget prices. There is no series of vocal records that have a greater documentary value, that meant more to the development of the phonograph record, or that are as consistently capable of providing pleasure of lovers of great singing. ... It must be said, however, that no recordings after these first sessions captured quite the same voice. Caruso at this stage had a lighter, more lyrical timbre and style than were to be the case even a few years later. Listening to both the 1902 and 1903 recordings of Nemorino’s ... aria will surprise those who know only later Baruso recordings. Here he sings with real flexibility, liquid beauty, and remarkably smooth legato; he sounds like a light lyric tenor. When you hear the singing on this disc and put it in the context in which it belongs - i.e., that of a young singer under the age of 30 at the beginning of a career - you understand just how remarkable these records are. Naxos provides superb notes about the singing and the records themselves, and informative production comments from Marston... This series promises to be one of the most significant recoding industry events of the decade... You’ll have a better understanding of the greatness of Caruso."
Henry Fogel - Fanfare - June 2001
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