Chesterfield Hour radio broadcasts of  Oct. 1, 8, 15 & 29; Nov. 19 & 26
Arias from Don Giovanni, Carmen, Alceste, Cavalleria rusticana, Fedra and Samson et Dalila; music of Bond, Schaefer, Del Riego, Mascagni, Lockhart, O. Straus, J. Strauss, Serradell, Spross, Brahms, Padilla, Sandoval, Ponce, Tchervanow, Lehar, Bartlett, Eden & Nevin, Reger, Tosti, Tchaikovsky, Schubert, Valverde, Kreisler, Dvorak, and Charles.

MARSTON 52012 (2 CDs) (F) (ADD) TT:  77:59 & 67:48

Chesterfield Hour broadcasts of March 25 & April 1, 1936 (Arias from  Carmen and La vestale; music of Sandoval, Grieg, Farley, Tosti, Griselle & Young, and Buzzi).  General Motors Hour broadcasts of May 24 & 31 and Sept. 27, 1936. (Arias from Semiramide, La traviata, Cavalleria rusticana, Aida and Otello; music of Tosti, Bland, Schubert and Falvo).  Ernestine Schumann-Heink 75th Birthday Party, June 15, 1936 (Music of Brahms & Bishop)

MARSTON 52032 (2 CDs) (F) (ADD)  TT:  78:34 & 74:56


Here are two twin-CD sets of great importance as they chronicle, in the best available sound, a series of broadcast performances by Rosa Ponselle. During her career Ponselle sang sixty-two radio concerts; apparently these CDs contain everything that has been archived. Volume I covers from 1934 through 1936, Volume II from 1936 through 1937, mostly broadcasts from New York including thirteen Chesterfield Hours and three General Motors Hours.  Her voice was big, and it is interesting to read the comments by AndrČ Kostelanetz, who conducted most of the Chesterfield Hour programs, describing problems they had with Ponselle's voice, which kept distorting.  The problem was solved simply by putting the mike some distance away from both her and the orchestra, which permitted a natural balance—without distortion. Some of these performances have been issued before on CD, but these new restorations by Ward Marston clearly are superior to anything released up to this time. 

Repertory for the broadcasts ranged from operatic arias through operetta, lieder, popular and traditional songs as well as a few kitsch shorter works (The Big Brown Bear, The Cuckoo, The Night Wind, The Sleigh).  Some of these performances have been issued previously; many were recorded commercially by Ponselle, either on her early Columbia recordings (available in a 2-CD set on Pearl {GEMM CDS 9964) in superb transfers by Marston), or her Victor recordings all of which are available in three Romophone multi-CD sets:  81006 {2 CDs} contains the 1923/25 disks, 81007 {2 CDs} contains the 1926/29 recordings, and 81022 {3 CDs} offers the 1939 recordings as well as those made in 1954 in her Baltimore suburb home, Villa Pace. Marston also was in charge of "audio conservation" for these, doing his usual outstanding work.  

Of particular interest is Ponselle's spoken tribute to Ernestine Schumann-Heink on the occasion of her 75th Birthday, recorded June 15, 1936.  How fascinating it would have been had Ponselle recorded Schumann-Heink's showpiece, the " Drinking Song" from Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia.  Ponselle is doubtless the only singer who could match the former's perfection and range. Another fascinating recording is an abbreviated "Bel raggio lusinghier" from  Semiramide by Rossini, a composer otherwise almost totally neglected by the soprano. One bar is missing from "Ritorna vincitor" but the editing is so masterful the omission is barely noticeable. Radio introductions are included which adds to the sense of history. Perhaps collectors might not wish to acquire these two latest issues as much repertory is available on previous sets. They would be missing out on the excitement of hearing the century's greatest soprano in live performances that capture excitement of the occasion. 

These new albums are important in the Ponselle discography. These are available directly from Ward Marston. However, three major broadcasts have yet to be discovered. Dec. 26, 1931 the Met aired Acts III and IV of Norma with Ponselle, Gladys Swarthout, Giacomo Lauri-Volpi and Ezio Pinza with Tullio Serafin conducting. Jan. 16, 1932 there was a complete Il trovatore with Ponselle, Faina Petrova, Lauri-Volpi, Tancredi Pasero and Giuseppe Danise with Vincenzo Bellezza on the podium. Don Giovanni was broadcast both Dec. 17, 1932 and January 20, 1934 with Ponselle, Maria Müller, Editha Fleischer, Tito Schipa and Ezio Pinza with Tullio Serafin conducting.  Now these are worth looking for!!

R.E.B. (Feb. 2001)