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Arthur SULLIVAN (1842-1900) and William S. GILBERT (1838-1910)
The Sorcerer (1877) - An Original Modern Comic Opera
Neville Griffiths (ten) ...  Alexis; Muriel Harding (sop) ...  Aline; Peter Pratt (bar) ...  John Wellington Wells; Jeffrey Skitch (bar) ...  Dr Daly; Fisher Morgan (bass) ...  Sir Marmaduke; Ann Drummond-Grant (alto) ...  Lady Sangazure; Yvonne Dean (sop) ...  Constance; Beryl Dixon (mezzo) ...  Mrs Partlet; Donald Adams (bass) ...  Notary
D’Oyly Carte Chorus
New Symphony Orchestra of London/Isidore Godfrey
Recorded at Decca Studios, London, July 1953
The Sorcerer (1877) - An Original Modern Comic Opera (highlights)
Derek Oldham (ten) ...  Alexis; Muriel Dickson (sop) ...  Aline; George Baler (bar) ...  John Wellington Wells; Leslie Rands (bar) ...  Dr Daly; Darrell Fancourt (bass) ...  Sir Marmaduke; Dorothy Gill (alto) ...  Lady Sangazure; Alice Moxon (sop) ...  Constance; Anna Bethell (mezzo) ...  Mrs Partlet; Stuart Robertson (bass) ...  Notary
D’Oyly Carte Chorus
D’Oyly Carte Orchestra/Isidore Godfrey
Recorded at HMV Studios, London, 12-13 September 1933
NAXOS 8.110785-86 [61:42 + 58:15]

 



This is another reissue of the 1953 recording that fortunately goes back to the original tapes. One clearly remembers the Phase 4 series including some of the G&S canon of which The Sorcerer was one. That series was noted for the over-the-top sound effects that were added to the tracks. I clearly hear in my mind the bellowing Notre Dame style bells that opened Act I, hardly characteristic of those heard in a tranquil village churchyard. Here, thankfully, we have a clear transcription of the early tapes and the bonus of being able to make comparison with the preceding HMV recording. The two versions in the same set provide a sensible way of filling space and offering something more than has previously been available. But I wonder who in sales they are targeting. Ardent Savoyards are the most likely to want to compare voices yet they are the collectors who will have already bought copies of these performances.

Isidore Godfrey was with the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company for a long period, from 1925 to 1966. It is interesting here to scrutinise differences in his readings of the scores separated over twenty years. Certainly, in the second Decca series (1960s) differences in orchestration and emphasis of sections of the orchestra are noticed. I have always preferred Godfrey’s pace compared with that of Sargent’s later Glyndebourne recordings.

In comparing the 1953 Sorcerer with both the 1933/1966 D’Oyly Carte recordings, this version is interesting in four respects: the line-up of singers provides a strong cast; the opening to Act II is more atmospheric (where the strings are more prominent); it introduces Donald Adams (who joined the company in 1951) in his first recording; and it was the first recording to introduce dialogue (end of Act II) to aid continuity of the plot.

Of the singers, Ann Drummond Grant and Muriel Harding are on good form while the fresh-sounding Neville Griffiths in the role of Alexis, his first recording with the company, is a distinct improvement on the ageing Derek Oldham who usually took all tenor parts at this time. Hearing him as a youthful Alexis in the 1933 recording makes an interesting comparison for those who have grown up knowing only the mature Oldham. Darrell Fancourt, a respected D’Oyly Carte star, had retired the year prior to this recording and although Fisher Morgan makes a good attempt I feel his emotions are empty.

The 1933 recording, despite its characteristic, boxy sound of the period, has amazing clarity of diction and George Baker (who never appeared on-stage with the D’Oyly Carte) sings well and plays the part with better characterisation than Peter Pratt in the later recording. The pace of this recording is sprightly.

The 1933 recording has a good treble and bass response but the gain on the mid frequencies is lacking and might have been compensated for. There is no evident hiss or crackle.

The 1953 recording transfer is excellent. Still owning the LPs, LK4070/1, I was interested to compare the Naxos CD equalisation with the sound from the turntable. The result was that one cannot tell any difference in tonal balance, but LP Side 4 suffers from a lathe/pressing background ‘roaring’ noise whereas the CD version is quite silent —so congratulations to the expert Naxos engineer (uncredited) who accomplished this excellent transfer. The booklet (in English only) gives a track running synopsis and potted biography for each of the soloists. A short note is given on the place of this opera in the G&S canon but nothing is said about the composer or writer.

Raymond Walker

 



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