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Sir Arthur SULLIVAN
The Lost Chord; Onward Christian Soldiers; Overture di Ballo; March and Graceful Dance; Overture, Macbeth; Suite No 1, Victorian and Merrie England; Overture, Marmion; My Dearest Heart; Pineapple Poll Suite.

Various soloists, bands and orchestras.
Rec 1966-1975? ADD
DECCA - THE BRITISH MUSIC COLLECTION 468 810-2 [71’31"]


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Decca’s British Music Collection series is reissuing a wealth of interesting music by British composers from, viewed alphabetically, Arne to Warlock and this example, featuring Sullivan, is no exception. It largely bypasses "Gilbert & Sullivan", though Pineapple Poll draws its tunes from various Savoy operas. The presence of the three vocal items might suggest an element of miscellaneity about the programme.

It was perhaps a pity that a recording of the glorious In Memoriam overture, if such does exist in Decca’s vaults, did not replace The Lost Chord and Onward Christian Soldiers. Nicely though Stuart Burrows sings the former, the presence of an accompanying choir does not add anything to it, while the arrangement of the latter, by Eric Rogers, presumably the Eric Rogers who provided much of the music for the Carry On Films, is overblown, almost a send-up, if not indeed (for me) a wind-up. Not everyone will remember Felicity Palmer as a soprano but her committed account of My Dearest Heart will give pleasure.

There are other items to take pleasure in here. The Henry VIII excerpts, Victoria and Merrie England and the Macbeth and Marmion overtures were all LP fillers when d’Oyly Carte (the "old" d’Oyly Carte, as I suppose we must now describe them) re-recorded the Savoy operas for Decca in the 1970s. Royston Nash, who conducts the RPO, was then Musical Director of d’Oyly Carte and his performances of these (quite extensive) excerpts are more than acceptable.

Victoria and Merrie England (1897) was a ballet composed to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and drew on a much earlier ballet L’Ile Enchantée – though late in Sullivan’s career it is thoroughly characteristic. Sir Walter Scott’s influence on music, British and foreign, during the 19th Century is a subject worthy of detached treatment. Britain played a full part in this with musical plays, called operas by composers like John Parry, J Whitaker, Charles Horn, Thomas Cooke, John Davy and Henry Bishop as early as the 1810s and 1820s, and later on in the century Sullivan contributed mightily in that direction. The Marmion overture (1878) pre-dated, his opera Ivanhoe by upwards of a dozen years. Macbeth (1888), for a Henry Irving production of "the Scottish play", is even finer. The CD insert suggests Verdi as an influence and certainly he is there, along with others (Sullivan was one of the great eclectics of musical history while still showing a very personal style), but for me Mendelssohn is the major influence both in scoring and the shape of the melodies.

Perhaps the finest on the disc and worth the whole cost on its own is Sir Charles Mackerras’s 1982 performance of the delicious Overture di Ballo, which again owes much to Mendelssohn in its instrumentation, although there is also a lot of French influence there too. Mackerras, of course, had a hand 51 years ago in the disc’s last item, a suite from the ballet Pineapple Poll, as he arranged the music, from various G&S snippets. This, is an arrangement for wind band by W J Duthoit and played by the superb Eastman Wind Ensemble. This brings a generally recommendable disc to a cheerful conclusion.

Finally, four points to make on presentation. First, the insert does not give any indication of what the individual movements of the Victoria & Merrie England suite are about. Second, my eyebrows raised when the list of contents stated that the d’Oyly Carte Chorus was to take part in the orchestral Henry VIII excerpts – you may be assured they do not! Third, while other volumes in this series are stated, and properly so to be devoted to music by Sir John Stainer and Sir Henry Rowley Bishop, this one is headed "Arthur Sullivan" with no "Sir". However the booklet prints all the words of the three vocal items.

Philip L Scowcroft

 


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