Melba Recordings

"... a label of fragrant distinction"

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News from Melba Recordings

Go behind the scenes for insights on our recordings, our artists and our future plans. Follow our artists' schedules and share the excitement of their journeys.

Peter Dawson - from phonograph cylinder to super compact disc

Saturday, 1 January 2000 - 12:00am

Peter Dawson, the Australian baritone who at his peak was as well known as Nellie Melba, made the first of his 2000 records in 1903 or 1904. He said that at the time the gramophone was "an instrument of torture", excruciating for the recording artist, who needed "lungs of leather" to make an impression on the wax cylinders, which captured nothing but the very loudest noises.

According to Dawson himself his first recording was of The Bandolero, made in London for the Edison Bell company. According to Dr Russell Smith, his meticulous biographer, all that can be said with any certainty is that Dawson recorded the popular song Navajo for the Gramophone Company in August 1904 and that was the record that launched his career.Ninety-five years later, and a new record company, Melba Recordings, has brought together an orchestra, conductor and recording engineer in the ballroom of Government House in Hobart to make a compact disc of some of the songs that Peter Dawson made famous.

Bass-baritone Gregory Yurisich, fresh from appearing with Domingo in Washington, is doing Dawson. Welsh conductor and founder of Opera North in England, David Lloyd Jones, has come to Hobart to direct the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. He is an expert in English music and just the man for the job.

English independent sound engineer Tim Handley is in charge of the technical side of the recording, having brought with him from England the very latest in recording equipment. It is so new that it does not yet exist in Australia. The artists are recording directly onto magneto-optical discs that will produce masters for the as-yet unreleased super audio CD format.

Producer Maria Vandamme has spent six months assembling the artists, the scores and the technicians for this event.

Peter Dawson was one of the most famous Australians of all time. When he was at the height of his popularity he ranked with Melba and Donald Bradman on the fame scale. Melba had an edge on her compatriots because she was world famous. Dawson and Bradman were, you might say, Empire famous. The demand for Dawson's recordings was enormous. His own publicity people claimed that he had made 3500 records and sold 14 million discs. Russell Smith has looked into the claims and calculates that 2000 titles might be closer to the mark and the Guinness Book of Records accepted a sales figure of 26 million discs. Who knows? There is no doubt that he was popular.

Gregory Yurisich was keen to record a CD of Dawson songs with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra because that was what he sang as a boy in Perth, around the piano with the family. Family members gave each other Dawson sheet music as presents for Christmas and birthdays. Jerusalem, The Floral Dance, Drake's Drum, The Road to Mandalay, Boots, Waltzing Matilda - they are in his blood, as they are for a whole generation of loyal subjects of several Britannic majesties who had to make their own entertainment in pre television times. Not that Dawson was a stranger to television.

Terry Lane