Foxglove Audio of Rawden, Leeds have provided a most
interesting compilation comprising a varied selection of mainly Gilbert
and Sullivan tenor and soprano arias and duets from seven of their Savoy
Operettas. In addition, there are included three songs from Sullivan’s
solo pen, two of which are for tenor and piano and the final track played
by the vocal ensemble Pro Cantione Antiqua.
I first came across the tenor James Griffett as a member
of the early music ensemble ‘Pro Cantione Antiqua’ and the soloist in
a fine collection of songs and ballads by Stanford on Campion Records.
Griffett with his light tenor voice is enthusiastic and reliable and
is admirably suited to this repertoire. His vocal talents and characterisation
can be heard to his best advantage in the wonderful arias ‘A wand’ring
minstrel’ and ‘Take a pair of sparkling eyes’.
Soprano Christina Clarke does a more than average job
here and proves to be extremely well matched with Griffett. Occasionally
her diction is poor, especially for example in the forte section of
the duet ‘Stay Frederick, stay’ 0:26-0:28 where her words are barely
audible without the aid of a libretto. It is however in the pianissimo
passages that the soprano is really at her best. In the same duet ‘Stay
Frederick, stay’ 1:39-2:11 is a good example of her voice heard at her
It is difficult for me not to compare these arias and
duets with Malcolm Sargent’s classic evergreen recordings of the Gilbert
and Sullivan operettas recently reissued in a 16 disc boxed set on EMI
CZS5 744682. The EMI tenor soloist on these tracks is the impeccable
Richard Lewis. His voice is deeper and richer than Griffett’s and his
strength and subtle control is without question. The soprano lead soloist
on the EMI recording is Elsie Morison whose performances are pretty
much unanimously regarded as top class, with a particularly secure technique.
However, I do find her vibrato uncomfortable at times, for example in
‘The sun whose rays are all ablaze’.
The Pro Arte Orchestra on the EMI Sargent recordings
is as good as can be expected from one of the premier ensembles of the
day and by comparison The Salon Orchestra are just not in the same league.
The violins sound like a school orchestra at times. Just listen to Track
2 2:00-2:04 which painfully illustrates their playing ability. Fortunately,
in the arias and duets, the orchestra is rarely heard without the soloists
and therefore do not impact too much on the proceedings.
We all have our particular favourites from the Gilbert
and Sullivan Operettas and it is impossible for everyone’s choices to
be accommodated. However, for a single disc of arias and duets this
Foxglove Audio compilation is as fine as I can imagine. It would have
been good however to have the librettos to the arias and duets, I have
the complete texts but many other listeners may not be so fortunate.
On the whole, the soloists Griffett and Clarke are
in fine voice individually and make a most suitable pairing in the duets.
I particularly enjoyed the pristine yet stylish performance of tenor
James Griffett. One barely notices the problems with the orchestral
accompaniment, making this a most recommendable release which will disappoint
Foxglove Audio, 10 Springwood Road, Rawdon, Leeds LS19 6BH
Tel: 0113 250 7282 E-mail Foxglove