The album contains previously unreleased live recordings by one of the 20th century’s greatest tenors. Joseph Schmidt’s career was spent almost entirely in front of a microphone. His small stature, 5 feet +/- an inch, kept him off the opera stage. He did give recitals. His American debut was on March 7, 1937 at Carnegie Hall. General Motors (just mentioning the company’s name today summons a surge of conflicting emotions) broadcast the recital and fortunately for us recorded it. The first number he sang in the US was “Una Furtiva Lagrima“. Schmidt interpolates an 11 second trill and a high note at the end. The singing that precedes the dazzling display at the end is a model of bel canto perfection.
I’ve written about Schmidt before. For sheer beauty of sound among tenors only Gigli, Björling, and Di Stefano, are comparable. As for technique, elegance of line, and high notes he stands alone. He had the most complete vocal technique I ever heard; all was at his command. I suspect his voice was not large, but he sang everything during his years on Berlin Radio before the Nazis expelled him from Germany.
Listen to his “Di quella pira’ (sung in German – Lodern zum Himmel). It’s sung rather than belted. He sings the first part before the chorus twice and adds an extra high C. The recording was made in 1930 when the tenor was not yet 26.
Finally, from the too often ridiculous to the sublime here is Schubert’s song Du Bist Die Ruh’ . The performance speaks for itself. Schmidt’s voice was not Italianate. It belonged to central Europe. It’s “brown velvet” sound represents the ultimate of its type. The sound quality on some of the tracks is poor, but we’re lucky to have them so no reason to complain.
The sad facts of Schmidt’s life (1904-1942), especially its premature end are too painful for me to relate again. All that need be said is that he was a supremely gifted artist.