This CD set is a re-packaging of a regular catalogue
item put together in the early days of the LP. It has been re-mastered
at a marginally lower volume compared with the first CD mastering, but
with no noticeable change to the equalisation or frequency response
which was originally transferred well.
The 1960s and 1970s saw an interesting bunch of lightweight operettas
and musicals performed at Sadler's Wells to professional standards and
Merrie England was amongst them. EMI then took the initiative
to bring the stage performers into the studio for a series of recordings
of Merry Widow, Orpheus in the Underworld, Tom Jones and others.
The performing team headed by June Bronhill, William McAlpine and later
Thomas Round made sure that the recordings would be a success. This
is one of the early Sadler's Wells works (1960).
Edward German wrote Merrie England
after working on the score of The Emerald Isle following Sullivan's
premature death. He gained a lot of practical knowledge from Sullivan's
sketches and style of orchestration and put this into practice with
Merrie England the first of his large scale works for
the stage. The show was produced at the Savoy Theatre where it played
to packed houses. The rustic romanticism of a Tudor story that introduced
Queen Elizabeth I, Sir Walter Raleigh and the Earl of Essex won the
hearts of the Edwardians of London. German chose the librettist, Basil
Hood, who had written two successful works for Sullivan, The Rose
of Persia and The Emerald Isle, on which, of course, German
had been working. Despite a flawed plot by Hood (weak incidental characters
are introduced) German was given much scope to provide colourful music,
where pomp and ceremony could be interwoven with ballads and romantic
An overture, full of olde English charm, runs straight
into the first Act opening chorus, a bright and sprightly number that
welcomes the village's May Queen. One skill German does not seem to
have picked up from Sullivan or other stage composers is the occasional
need for an extended introduction to a song when a change of mood is
necessary. Jill's song [CD1 tk.3] in a minor key would have benefited
from the sort of introductory music Mad Margaret has in Sullivan's Ruddigore.
A captivating patter song, one of three in the operetta,
I do Counsel [CD1 tk.4] is well-sung with clear diction
by Howard Glynne and shows off German's skill as an operetta writer.
The quintet, Love is meant to make us glad exudes rustic
English charm and the voices are well balanced though I have reservations
about a few of Bronhill's strident high notes in the first verse–a lovely
number even so.
One wonders whether the 'Come to Arcadee' in
When a Man is a Lover (duet) [CD1 tk.9] gave Monckton the idea
for 'Merry Pipes of Pan' in The Arcadians (1909) but this number
could have started the ball rolling.
One of the all-time favourites of the period is undoubtedly
Yeomen of England [tk.10]. It was made additionally famous
by Peter Dawson in the ’thirties and most recently at Queen Elizabeth
II's Jubilee celebrations at Buckingham Palace, London in 2002. The
marching rhythm linked to trumpet fanfares and elegant vocal tune is
most stirring and is German at his best.
The Entrance of the Queen [tk.11] is
given another stirring march tune that could have given inspiration
to early Elgar or Coates. In contrast, the ballad that follows, O
Peaceful England is a dreamy number for Monica Sinclair as Queen
Elizabeth I where the character is unusually portrayed with heavy romanticism.
Sinclair sings the number with appropriate dignity.
A few of the musical numbers in this operetta are surprisingly
nautical in flavour and one expects a hornpipe to intrude at some point.
Act II opens richly - full of rhythmic vitality. An
unaccompanied chorus follows that is later used as a reprise [tk.5]
before breaking into a delightful Rustic Dance. German
will be long remembered for this number along with his Nell Gwyn
and Henry VIII dances. The songs in this Act show that German
didn't use up all his inspirational energy in the first Act. Dan
Cupid hath a Garden is a excellent ballad, well sung by McAlpine
[tk.6], as is the waltz song, Who shall say that love is cruel?,
sung with hopeful anticipation and good cadenza by Bronhill [tk.8].
The regular metre of the quartet, When Cupid first this Old World
trod [tk.9] makes this a very catchy number also.
Characteristic of the excellent score are the tripping
measures and soft woodwind with flute/piccolo trills that enhance a
Tudor ambience. One wonders what John McGlynn would make of it in a
modern recording. EMI are likely to add to this series with a reissue
of German's long-lost Tom Jones (1907), a work known more by
name than music. This will be a welcome bonus.
The recording is of good
fidelity and the chorus (not the Sadler's
Wells but for some reason provided by the
Williams Singers) do full justice to the work.
Very adequate notes (in English only) give
some background and a brief track-related
synopsis is provided for each number. For
some inexplicable reason and despite a generous
amount of blank printing space, there is no
cast list [see footnote]. So one needs the
header of this review to tie in the cast to
the roles they play (taken from the previous
issue of this Classics for Pleasure set) I
notice that a swapping of minor roles seems
to have taken place in the recording sessions.
Hopefully, this omission will be rectified
in the next print of the booklet.
Photos: Edward German in 1901; Merrie
England at the Savoy Theatre, 1902
EMI Classics have informed us that the cast
list is printed on the back of the CD case
which means it can be referred to at the same
time as reading the notes in the booklet