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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Karl MILLÖCKER (1842-1899)
The Dubarry (1879, revsd. 1931) - highlights
Anny Ahlers (sop), Gitta Alpar (sop), Heddle Nash (ten), Herbert Ernst Groh (ten)
His Majesty's Theatre orchestra/Ernest Irving
Parlophone orchestra/Frieder Weissmann
Odeon orchestra/Theo Mackeben
Leo FALL (1873-1925)

Madame Pompadour (1922), highlights
Evelyn Laye (sop), Derek Oldham (ten), Elsie Randolph (sop), Huntley Wright (bar)
Daly's Theatre orchestra/Arthur Wood
rec. 1924 (Pompadour) and 1931-2 (Dubarry)
PEARL GEMM CD 9068 [72.44]


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This highlights disc is a compilation of 78s issued by Columbia, Parlophone and Odeon (German) at the time of their London West End theatre productions.

Pearl has sensibly mixed in records of German origin to extend the highlights and in The Dubarry also provide an interesting comparison between two versions of The Dubarry number as performed by different leading stars Ahler and Alpar, the stars in Britain and Germany respectively.

Of particular interest to collectors are the singers themselves. Evelyn Laye, Heddle Nash and Derek Oldham are well known in Britain but not necessarily in this repertoire. In her time Anny Ahlers, a discovery by Richard Tauber, was also much loved by theatre-goers, but a tragic accident one year after her West End appearance, and the time of these recordings, put an end to her life. (Read the detailed CD notes to understand the complete picture)

Karl Millöcker is best known for his success with Der Bettelstudent (1881) which overshadowed The Dubarry two years later. His style is light yet engaging. Originally called Grafin Dubarry the piece was short-lived despite the critics' positive approval of it. The sensuously romantic score was close to that of Lehár yet it was so well suited to the musical tastes between the wars that Theo Mackeben revised the music for a new German version with book and lyrics by Eric Maschwitz The thirties revival adhered closely to the original plot concerning Madame Dubarry, mistress of King Louis XV of France.

The Berlin production by Mackeben which starred Richard Tauber was very successful. A British impresario Stanley Scott decided it was an appropriate time to introduce the work to London and launched an anglicised version. His casting of Ahlers (with her undoubted charisma) attracted Heddle Nash to join the company and embrace the world of operetta instead of his usual oratorio and opera. Earlier Nash had refused to accept an offer by Rupert D'Oyly Carte to sing Gilbert and Sullivan in his company. The inclusion of Nash was an added attraction to the audience. The show became popular in Paris and in London, running to a substantial 397 performances.

In The Dubarry, an opening orchestral pot-pourri usefully substitutes as an overture. Amongst the most notable showstoppers "I Give my Heart" (tk6) and the waltz duet "Without your Love" (tk3) were best remembered. The partnership of Ahler and Nash works well and some of the tracks are gems. Ahler has a glorious voice and soars effortlessly. She sings with considerable clarity and feeling and her strong confidence can be judged in the hit song, "I Give my Heart" (tk6)

Nash, with his velvety voice and elegant phrasing, needs no introduction. By the time of this recording he was already well known in music circles. (Try him in tk4.) Once or twice I find some of Nash's sustained notes in this recording a touch uneven: he is not at his absolute best.

Gitta Alpar was also a remarkable soprano who matches the qualities of Ahler mentioned above. Listen to her high notes that end "The Dubarry" song (German version) conducted by Mackeben himself (tk11).

The lack of chorus numbers (apart from the brief opening of tk2) in these vintage recordings is understandable but it would have been nice had some been recorded to help make a total assessment of the show. These Parlophone electric recordings with their treble cut and distant miking are a little disappointing but the product gives fair balance to the orchestra. Irving conducts with Lehár panache and theatrical rallentandos.

For the 1930 revision Irving included a ballet using Le Tombeau de Couperin (Ravel). An authentic (1929) recording of it by the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra under Coppola is included since Irving did not record it.

Leo Fall, as the son of a bandmaster, received a good musical education at the Viennese conservatoire and was known to Lehár. He is best known for a successful score of The Dollar Princess (Die Dollarprinzessin). Apart from a few songs, his music is not particularly memorable and the orchestrations are regularly 'thin'. Hearing the numbers on these recordings I am surprised to find that rarely do musical introductions start a song. Instead they are replaced by a couple of bars of rhythm leading straight into the vocal line. Wondering whether this was due to the direction of the studio I looked at my Dollar Princess score. This turns out to be a characteristic of Fall's compositions - many of The Dollar Princess songs also lack proper introductions. (To me an introduction always serves an important purpose in musicals to set a song's mood for the lyrics and vocal line to follow.)

Madame Pompadour is somewhat Lehárish in parts and consequently is an appropriate coupling for The Dubarry. The London production followed a production of The Merry Widow as did its soprano star, Evelyn Laye.

Evelyn Laye is a memorable stage singer and actor. Here she does not disappoint and is possibly at her best. Her light, feathery voice and sonorous tone coupled with excellent diction make her a joy to listen to. Try tk15. Derek Oldham is a different matter. A pleasantly warm tone and wide vocal range, his voice is either liked or disliked: his affected vowels are over-rounded, and sound particularly artificial. Love's Sentry is the best known of the songs from this show (tk17). Despite its odd 'clanking chain and piccolo' introduction with minor key accompaniment at the beginning it is an unusual song which has much appeal once it gets going. (With Desert Song characteristics it could pass for a composition by Romberg.) Laye and Oldham are here well matched.

The number, "Two Little Birds in a Tree" is a nonsense piece and contains the worst of trivial lyrics and orchestral effects where the bird noises sound more like a robust Aylesbury duck. The song is only rescued by the serious musicality of Elsie Randolph's singing and the 'Chabrier' feel to sections of the music.

This Columbia recording is one of the last acoustic recordings, made eight years prior to the Parlophone recording of Dubarry yet is strangely superior both in balance and clarity. This Pearl release carries detailed notes and the information on the recording matrices and catalogue numbers is useful.

Raymond Walker


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