> Terry HAWES His Excellency [RW]: Classical CD Reviews- Jun2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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HIS EXCELLENCY operetta (2001)
With libretto by W S Gilbert (1894)
David Luck (Matts Munck), Paul Mills (Erling), Nova Skipp (Christina), Faith Stretton (Nanna), Jean Aird (Thora), Stan Wilson (Griffenfeld), Mick Wilson (The Regent), Harald (Leon Berger), Chris Vincent (Tortenssen), Rosalind McCutcheon (Dame Hecla), Sarah Lodge (Blanca), Peter Francis (Sentry)
Chorus and Orchestra by members of the Royal Academy of Music/Terry Hawes
Rec. London, 2001
AMP PRODUCTIONS [69.40] £12.99 +p&p

When reviewing a pastiche of Sullivan’s music it is always difficult to know whether to judge the work on its own merits or from a likeness to the original it is trying to represent. When Gilbert wrote His Excellency it was set to music, not by Sullivan, but by Osmond Carr. Carr’s music was uninspired and the work went down as a failure. However, the libretto (long ago published in the Chatto & Windus collection of Gilbert’s plays) concerning a practical joke-playing governor of a Danish town reads well, and in my opinion is far superior to Gilbert’s last Savoy opera with Sullivan, The Grand Duke (1896). The earlier His Excellency shares some similarities. Staged at George Edwards’ Lyric Theatre in October 1894 the initial run was disappointing: Carr took only a modest portion of the receipts realising that much of the failure was due to the music. The work was never revived, that is until now. Had Hawes been given the opportunity to substitute his music in 1894 I have no doubt the opening run might have been a roaring success.

This production follows the style of Thespis where composers/arrangers set out to fit existing Sullivan music from other sources or recompose afresh in the vein of Sullivan. Terry Hawes does the latter and achieves more competency than others who attempted productions of Thespis between the ’Sixties and ’Eighties. Hawes’ music is very fitting, perhaps more Edwardian than Victorian in flavour (tk7 Here are the warriors) yet his compositions carry a good likeness to Sullivan. A hint of Offenbach, Auber (Manon Lescaut) tk24, Lecocq (Fille de Mme Angot) tk17 and, dare I say it, Anna Russell, drift in from time to time, but since Sullivan himself was influenced by Auber and Offenbach, this is justified. The music is fresh and engaging and fit the lyrics and recitatives most appropriately. On the other hand, similarities to actual numbers is found: tk8 contains vocal lines whose inspiration has clearly come from the Lord Chancellor’s song (Iolanthe) while elsewhere I recognise composition models taken from Haddon Hall and The Grand Duke (both written within a few years of the original Excellency production). I hasten to add that these likenesses are subtle and not in the vein of Bruce Montgomery perhaps, where opening bars of familiar Sullivan numbers are used before running into new Thespis compositions. It is clear that Hawes has studied Sullivan carefully and knows the Savoy Operas inside out to enable him to produce the delightfully bright Sullivanesque numbers found on this disc. His orchestration seems somewhat heavier than Sullivan would score and are more like Offenbach. (When Michael Harris carried out his brilliant scoring from the piano version of the Sapphire Necklace song Over the Roof [see review] he was aware that Sullivan’s orchestration was characteristically light with effectively simple decoration and a vocal line often accompanied by one wind instrument for a few lines of a verse and then passing on to another whilst thickening with horns, etc. to give bloom with tied notes.) These characteristics of Sullivan are not very evident to my ears, but the forward orchestra could be affecting my judgement. But this is a minor point, however. One needs to look at the broad canvas instead, and for me the quality of John Dervish’s production makes very enjoyable listening. Should Terry Hawes attempt to compose a new version of Thespis then I am sure the result would be very good.

The production here is very professionally executed: the singers are more than proficient and the orchestra is made up of flawless musicians. Musical direction by Terry Hawes commands a brisk pace and the singers and orchestra responds admirably. Of the singers themselves, certain Hawes’ numbers demand a wide compass with unusually high notes yet all cope without an indication of strain. Perhaps Griffenfeld in (tk17) is a little insecure on long held notes. Diction is excellent in this warm recording. The singers’ miking is close and a short delay reverb. is used to usefully thicken the orchestra rather than provide an artificially-spacious echo. If anything, the orchestra is a little too forwardly placed to be ideal.

An extremely attractive CD presentation case accompanies the disc (not a jewel case, more like those of certain French labels) with good notes, synopsis and libretto in English. Noticing Michael Walters’ involvement I might have hoped for more comment about the history associated with this work, but realise that copy space was probably at a premium. This recording will not disappoint those keen on exploring this genre. I had seen an advertisement in the G&S News some months ago, but at the time Hawes was unknown to me and I imagined, wrongly, that this might have been one of those mediocre amateur productions whose recordings are variable. Not a bit of it! No information apart from web address— www.hisexcellency.co.uk is given on the CD and orders are taken on that site. An outer London telephone number contact is also available on +44 (0)20 8341 6767

Raymond Walker

Production stills: Rutland Barrington; Jessie Bond (1894)

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