English tenor Sydney Coltham can be heard on the BNOC’s Pagliacci in English from 1927, available from both Pristine Audio and Cheyne Records. Coltham has also been the subject of a reissue by Cheyne Records, on a CD that includes his 1927 Zonophone of the two Messiah arias. He is also to be heard as Goro on the 1924 HMV Madam Butterfly in English (with Rosina Buckman, Tudor Davies, Frederick Ranalow and Nellie Walker in the four main roles) – another of my future transfer projects.

Thanks to Daniel O’Hara for suggesting that Frank Chamberlain, credited with the Messiah arias on Piccadilly, may possibly be a pseudonym for Sydney Coltham (and to Chris Goddard for drawing Dan’s attention to the question of Chamberlain’s identity). As luck would have it, I have a 1915 Zonophone of Coltham singing the same two arias. Having listened to it, the identification is very plausible – the performance is quite distinct from that by Frank Mullings, for example, on a 1922 Columbia.

The identification of Chamberlain as Sydney Coltham is certainly very persuasive to my ears, with the two versions sharing many nuances of dynamics and enunciation. There are some differences – a phrase ending lingered over in one version is passed more quickly in the other and so on. And of course, the Piccadilly recording, as a 10” record is noticeably cut. The Zonophone only trims a few orchestral passages.

Handel – Messiah – Comfort ye, my people; Ev’ry valley shall be exalted
Sydney Coltham, tenor
Zonophone Serial A184
Matrices: al 8381f, 8383f (single side numbers Z-042090/1)
Recorded 15th July 1915
Handel – Messiah – Comfort ye, my people; Ev’ry valley shall be exalted
Frank Chamberlain (Sydney Coltham), tenor
Piccadilly No.168
Matrices: XX1427, XX1428
Recorded c1928-29