Outside of "The Swedish Nightingale" Jenny Lind, who never recorded, Adelina Patti was the pre-eminent female singer of the nineteenth century. Patti made her 28 extant Gramophone & Typewriter recordings when she was past 60 and, at her insistence, recorded them all at her estate of Craig-Y-Nos Castle in South Wales. Twenty-six of these sides are included in Symposium's Adelina Patti, the most extensive reissue of her recordings thus far made available. A possible 29th track of Patti's singing, made on a cylinder dated 1895, may exist at Syracuse University; it has yet to be authenticated and is not included here.
The Symposium release touts an "Authentic Transfer Process," and to the naked ear, these are straight, unhindered transfers of generally good copies; in some case the only copies, of Patti's records. The best benefit of Symposium's "warts and all" approach is that little bits of audio verité that occur away from the recording horn become apparent, such as Patti's agitated comments at the end of Old Folks at Home, or clearing her throat at the start of The Last Rose of Summer. No one who listens to recordings of Adelina Patti expects to hear the singer who dazzled the crowned heads of Europe and pleased the toughest critics in the 1870s and 1800s -- she was just too old in 1905, and the recording equipment too primitive. However, plenty of Patti's ebullient energy and personality comes through the recorded haze a century old, and especially in popular numbers such as Comin' thro' the rye it is easy to see why she was so well loved. Even in pieces such as Old Folks at Home, which does not go so well, it is incredible to imagine that you are listening to a singer who as a teenager performed this tune to the pleasure of President and Mrs. Lincoln.
Competitor Nimbus Records has had a long history of re-releasing Patti's work, and the Symposium issue does not entirely supplant Nimbus' more heavily processed release The Era of Adelina Patti, including a selection of recordings by singers also active in her distant time. If the sizzling sound of old shellac is not music to one's ears, then perhaps try the Nimbus, which is less noisy. For those who want to hear as many recordings of Patti as possible, and do not mind the noise, this Symposium release is the gold standard.