What is right about the "Pinafore"? For whatever reason, largely the same
personnel passed muster two years earlier with flying colours. The knack
of recording G&S is to walk the tightrope between good singing and
involving performance, between Gilbertian game and serious drama. This
balance even Sargent's stellar Glyndebourne casts couldn't achieve, and
the recent Mackerras series is as flat as pancakes for the same reason.
Wonder of wonders, the old Carte managed it here. There is a pace and
variety in Godfrey's direction from the very first drum roll, which galvanises
the company into producing a live and kicking "Pinafore"; and with no
dialogue everything fits easily onto one disc.
Martyn Green excels. How his supercilious, jumped up Sir Joseph contrasts with his timid little Lord High Executioner! Has any other performer of these roles ever quite matched Green's protean intelligence? I don't think so. This relish comes across just as strongly in Fancourt's monstrous Deadeye, Halman's 'plump and pleasing' Buttercup (how well she deserves Corcoran's epithet!) and even Osborn's Ralph, which surprises with a 'Nightingale' solo as eloquently sung as it is acted. Leslie Rands's confident, burnished Captain Corcoran is amongst the very best on record, which is saying something. Muriel Harding paints the social dilemma so vividly in her Act 2 scena "The hours creep on apace" that, for a moment, she really does make Josephine's choice seem a matter of life or death. And that is as it should be. Indeed, the most impressive thing about "Pinafore" here, is the deft way it steers its course between the Scylla of ponderous oversinging and the Charybdis of facetious light comedy, the urgency of its dramatic and musical thrust. Listen to Osborn and Harding in "Refrain, audacious tar!" and you'll see what I mean - passionate, personal singing and acting; once heard, never forgotten.
Although dating from two years earlier, "Pinafore" has come up much fresher and better balanced in sound, and here Naxos have succeeded as well as either Pearl or Sounds on CD at capturing the voices cleanly, despite some telltale signs of over-automated scratch filtering. The Sounds on CD version again scores by smoothing out some horrid edits, but here at least Naxos offer good value for money, despite the thin, piecemeal documentation. So, 'modified rapture'. But with "Pinafore" at least, memory's rosy glow is not misplaced; an old friend is back to stay.