An Extraordinary, and Neglected, Singer
Lynn in Dallas | Dallas, TX USA | 10/18/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"When I saw "Rigoletto" in Fort Worth, the first opera of my young life, at the age of twelve, Igor Gorin sang the title role. Somehow, his name stuck with me over the next five decades, while the rest of the cast evaporated, so he must have made quite an impression on me. After listening to this CD, I can understand why. However, Gorin never had the success that, on the evidence here, he clearly deserved. That undoubtedly had something to do with his status as a recurring refugee over a couple of decades. First, this young son of a rabbi fled the political unrest and anti-semitism in the Ukraine with the rest of his family, and ended up in Vienna as an illegal alien. Making ends meet by delivering milk, cleaning, and doing whatever else came to hand, he eventually rose to become the major cantor at an important synagogue, and did some touring with a small Czech opera company. Then, with the rise of Hitler, Gorin became a refugee again, this time from the Nazis. Indeed, his father and brother died in concentration camps. He ended up alone in the United States in the early 1930s, starting all over again, taking menial jobs to survive. Within a few years, his talent gained him considerable success on radio, recordings (RCA Victor), and the concert and opera stage, but he never "broke the surface" into real opera stardom. He did not make it to the Metropolitan Opera until 1964, when he was fifty-nine, and sang only one engagement there.
The recordings on this CD, made from 1938 to 1942, indicate that Gorin should have been much better known and appreciated. His voice did not have the thunder of Leonard Warren, or the dark, vibrant sexuality of Lawrence Tibbett, or the round, mellow warmth of Robert Merrill. But Gorin was a better musician than any of them, and his voice was one of true lyrical beauty. The tone was always precisely defined, with a wonderful legato. He could use "mezza voce" (soft singing) in a way that few baritones ever achieve, coupled with the ability to open the tone out flawlessly to a ringing fortissimo. Especially in the Russian selections, he also had a genuine dramatic instinct, and was able to act vividly with the voice without going over the line into staginess. His distinguished career as a recitalist shows in his subtlety of phrasing and crispness of diction, even in the operatic arias. This clarity is especially welcome when, in four of the selections, Gorin sings in English. The other fourteen are sung in the original languages.
Gorin also had considerable luck in being able to record many unusual selections which more famous singers rarely bothered with. Over half of the pieces here are arias and songs by Mussorgsky--not exactly the "hit parade" in the 1930s and 1940s--including a complete set of "Songs and Dances of Death", which, in the era before long-playing records, was almost unheard of . There are also rarities from Vienna (Korngold's "Die Tote Stadt" and Goldmark's "Die Koningen Von Saba"), early Verdi ("Attila"), and many lesser-known art songs, almost all Russian. This CD would be worth buying just for the unusual assortment of music.
Coupled with the rarity factor, the extraordinary quality of the performances makes this installment in the Nimbus "Prima Voce" series a must-have for baritone lovers. My own favorites are spread across three languages. If I were exiled to the proverbial desert island, one of the ten all-time baritone performances that would go along with me is Mussorgsky's song "Where Art Thou, Little Star?" as Gorin sings it (in Russian, despite the title). The music itself is deeply moving, but Gorin takes it to a whole new level. His facility with the almost oriental turns of the melody reminds one that the coloratura flexibility developed by the best Jewish cantors was his by heritage and training. And midway through the piece, there is a magic moment when Gorin takes a phrase up to a ravishing pianissimo "F" near the top of his range, comes down seamlessly--and then takes the same musical phrase again, but this time with the "F" full voice, wide open, but without a hint of spreading. Another memorable Mussorsky item is "All is Quiet in the Camp" from "Khovanshchina". Here Gorin's melancholy and his passionate denunciation of "the barbaric Germans" (remember his history) make the English translation chillingly effective. Other extraordinary performances include "Dagli immortal vertici" from "Attila", in idiomatic Italian, with more of that striking coloratura passagework in a cadenza at the end; another Mussorgsky aria from "Sorochintsy Fair" (is THAT rare enough for you?), extraordinarily tender but ending with a ringing High G; meltingly lovely voicings of the Goldmark and Korngold scenes in English; and on and on. The only factor that tempted me, if only for a moment, to give this CD four stars instead of five is the rather fast, extroverted "Songs and Dances of Death". I prefer them slower, more hushed, more haunted, making the outbursts even more devastating. Still, Gorin makes a good case for his interpretation, dramatizing strongly, and "Serenade" is truly thrilling. The sound restorations are very good, in the Nimbus tradition. So, what are you waiting for? Because of these recordings, justice can still be done to this extraordinary singer, even if only posthumously.