Yesterday’s free “concert” at the Four Seasons Centre was a bit different. It was an illustrated talk entitled 110 Years of Singing on Record: An Introduction to the Evolution of Style. It was illustrated with a number of recordings played over the speaker system in the RBA and two records played on a 1914 Victor VI acoustic gramophone; an instrument that produced surprisingly good sound.
The title was overly ambitious. We didn’t get any sense of evolution and, since the most recent recording was from 1983, the “110 years” bit was something of a misnomer. The basic premise seemed to be that there was a distinct shift in singing style between the first and third quarters of the twentieth century; which I think is probably true. Demonstrating using a pretty wide variety of voices and repertoire was rather less than convincing though. Still more peculiar was the (implicit) idea that nothing has changed since the 1970s. To give one example, sure one can demonstrate that Renata Scotto used a great deal more vibrato than Nellie Melba but what singer today would use as much vibrato as Scotto? In a slightly different vein, to argue that Peter Pears phrasing a song more dramatically than Karl Erb is purely a matter of singing style when Ben Britten is at the piano is rather missing the point of that particular partnership.
The Victor gramophone was truly a thing of beauty though.
That horn is laminated mahogany and all the fittings are gold plated.