One wonders why Preiser's highly Eurocentric Lebendige Vergangenheit series would devote a volume to the most popular Irish tenor of all time: John McCormack. This series' greatest asset is the exposure it provides to working opera singers of the past, usually representing very little known names in valuable collections of rare recordings. McCormack's enormous recorded output -- stretching in a nearly unbroken span from 1903 to 1935 -- is certainly well known and has been reissued on CD almost in its entirety, certain items numerous times. His involvement in opera productions was minimal and limited to the years just prior to the First World War; his weaknesses as an actor and preference for recital singing ultimately won the day. Although his grasp of French was considerable, McCormack had only a poor command of Italian, yet he recorded Italian opera arias in addition to several selections in languages other than English, as the Victor Company wanted him to give everything he could. McCormack's 1910 recording "I Hear You Calling Me" is believed to have sold more than a million copies.
What Preiser has collected here primarily consists of Italian opera arias, along with a few numbers in French and the "Prize Song" from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, which McCormack sings in English. There is nothing at all rare here; all of the recordings are taken from familiar acoustic Victors made between 1910 and 1917 that have been repeatedly reissued. The transfers are not especially good; while some sections of records come through with clarity, some of the discs used by Preiser are a bit worn sounding and dull, even in items of which good copies remain relatively common in the 78 market. This is all of the worst material McCormack recorded -- which is not to say all of it's bad -- but as a singer his greatest triumphs are unquestionably in Irish traditional songs and other kinds of popular literature. Preiser's Lebendige Vergangenheit: John McCormack just simply isn't representative of his extraordinary gifts and should be far down on the list of priorities in terms of connecting with the work of this vocal legend.