ROSSI, Tino: Ecoutez les mandolines

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TINO ROSSI "Ecoutez les mandolines"

Original 1933-1950 Recordings

The archetypal inter-War romantic tenor of French cabaret, Tino Rossi was variously dubbed ‘The Napoleon of Romance’ (a simultaneous reference to his matinée-idol status and Corsican origins) and ‘The Rudolph Valentino of Song’. To present-day ears the lady-killer image promoted in most of his 28 screen appearances — framed by such far-flung romantic locations as Hawaii and Naples — may sound at odds with the homely, sweet-toned, ingratiatingly harmless crooning tenorino recorded in 200-odd charming love songs. However, this was only one narrow perspective on a more varied and colourful character. Far from being merely a crooner, in the theatre Tino’s singing had "projection"; and, sprinkled over a large discography of tailor-made tangos and fox-trots, several finely-poised renderings of operatic lyric-tenor arias, art-songs (by Massenet, Hahn and others) and Corsican folk-orientated items (the 1933 Berceuse is a prime example) earmark him as an artist of skill and refinement.

‘Le Roi des Chanteurs de Charme’, the genial Tino was born Constantino Rossi into a comfortable, middle-class family in Ajaccio, Corsica, on 29th April, 1907. From his earliest years his penchant for singing was encouraged by regular trips to the opera, but only after many years of struggle did his true talent emerge, through his café-concert appearances in Ajaccio, Marseilles, Aix-en-Provence and other Mediterranean venues where, guitar in hand, he looked every inch a Corsican troubadour. Indeed, it was in exactly this guise that fame finally came his way, at the Théâtre des Variétés in Paris in 1933, a fame further consolidated a year later as women flocked to the ABC or the Casino for a glimpse of their idol in revue in songs like "Vieni, vieni" and "O Corse, île d’amour", the two sides a hit record which prompted a long and successful association with Columbia Records.

In Tino, Par Tino Rossi, his 1974 memoir, the tenor pays tribute to the then Columbia Jean Bérard and to his own good sense in accepting his offer: "The Columbia contract turned my head. This was a young, up-and-coming firm whose roster was headed by many prestigious names, such as Damià, Lys Gauty, Georges Thill, Lucienne Boyer, Pills et Tabet, Gilles et Julien, Mireille, Jean Sablon and many others … Bérard hoisted my name high upon the billboards in the [French] capital and elsewhere". Elsewhere in the book, Rossi also eulogises the composer of his first two song successes: the Marseilles-born guitarist, songwriter Vincent Scotto (1876-1952), Rossi’s mentor, collaborator, arranger and the composer of so many of his film and cabaret songs. Prior to his association with Rossi, Scotto had a longer pedigree in cabaret, extending back to the turn of the 19th century, as the major lyricist to the Swiss-born composer-songwriter Henri Christiné (1867-1941). His influence on the young tenorino Rossi was salutary: "One man alone, in those days, knew how to restore my spirits: Vincent Scotto". According to Rossi, Scotto dashed off "Vieni, vieni" for him in two minutes flat.

Tino Rossi’s varied career spanned more than 40 years and comprised, apart from films and revues, international cabaret tours, radio and TV appearances. Prior to 1945, however, the silver screen was its prime factor. Tino’s voice was heard on celluloid from 1933 in Justin de Marseille, Ademaï au Moyen-Age and Vogue mon coeur and in sketches including L’affaire Coquelet and Les nuits muscovites (this last featuring Annabella, Harry Baur and P. R. Wilm). These, if they could be fairly rated appearances at all, were really bit parts of little consequence and his début proper came the following year with La cinquième empreinte. Rossi’s first real breakthrough came in 1936 with Marinella (this co-starred the glamorous Yvette Lebon and Tino’s songs, mostly bespoke creations by Scotto, included a lilting title-song).

After Marinella, during 1937, Rossi appeared first in Au son des guitares (1937) in which Nita Raya, his former co-star at the Paris Casino, shared the credits (in this, his second full-scale film-musical, he delivered several notable Scotto chansonnettes, including "Loin des guitares" and Bella ragazzina) and later in an even bigger draw: Naples au baiser de feu. Directed by Augusto Genina (1892-1957), this had a more substantial storyline drawn from a novel by Auguste Bailly. A tuneful extravaganza co-starring two leading ladies of the French screen, Vivianne Romance (1909-1991) and Mireille Balin (1908-1968), it offered Tino many opportunities to air standard Neapolitan songs, alongside several others written expressly by Scotto, notably "Mia piccolina" "Tarantella" and Écoutez les mandolines.

In 1938 Tino made his first visit to the USA and appeared in the film Tout Paris chante and in 1939, with Lumières de Paris (co-starring Michèle Alfa), came his first sizeable cinema acting role and last pre-War film appearance. Resuming his career, in 1941 he appeared in Le soleil a toujours raison and Fièvres and in late 1942 was paired with Lilia Vetti (the future — second — wife who would later partner him on extensive tours of the USA, Canada and South America) in Le chant de l’exilé. In 1943 he starred opposite Annie France, a pretty young blonde, in Mon amour est près de toi and the following year, in L’île d’amour was typecast as a Corsican sailor love-matched with another blonde screen bombshell, Josseline Gaël. His post-War appearances include Le chanteur inconnu (1946) which featured Henri Bourtayre’s affecting Tout bleu.

The "most famous Corsican since Napoleon", the charming Tino Rossi melted even his harshest detractors with melody and a repertoire of 1,000+ songs of the most diverse kinds (tangos, fox-trots, ballads, etc.) cradled some sizeable best-sellers, most notably : "Adieu, Hawaïi" (1935) which sold over 400,000 copies and his overall biggest success — if not perhaps his most readily remembered — the 30-million-selling "Petit Papa Noël" (1946).

Tino Rossi died in Paris on 26th September, 1983.

Peter Dempsey, 2002

The Naxos Historical labels aim to make available the greatest recordings of the history of recorded music, in the best and truest sound that contemporary technology can provide. To achieve this aim, Naxos has engaged a number of respected restorers who have the dedication, skill and experience to produce restorations that have set new standards in the field of historical recordings.

Peter Dempsey

A tenor singer of wide range and performing experience, Peter Dempsey specialises in Victorian and Edwardian genre ballads and art-song, and has recorded various CDs, including Love’s Garden Of Roses for Moidart. Quite apart from his personal enthusiasm for music in the broadest sense, through his assiduous collecting and study of 78s over many years, Peter has acquired not only a wide knowledge of recorded musical performance but also a heartfelt awareness of the need to conserve so many "great masters" who — were it not for CD — might now be lost for future generations. A recognised authority on old recordings, Peter now regularly researches and produces CD albums from 78s.
Disc: 1
Cerisier rose et pommier blanc
1 Ecoutez les mandolin
2 Pourquoi, quand je ti dis 'Je ta'aime'?
3 Berceuse
4 Marinella
5 Amapola
6 Guitare d'amour
7 Toi
8 Le secret de tes caresses
9 Il pleut sur la route
10 Un violon dans la nuit
11 Bella ragazzina
12 Rien qu'un chant d'amour
13 Le bateau des iles
14 Le belle conga
15 Reginella
16 Tout bleu
17 Midinette de Paris
18 Plus je vous aime
19 Cerisier rose et pommier blanc
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