Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Edward GERMAN (1862-1936)
Merrie England (1902) - operetta
William MacAlpine – Raleigh (ten), June Bronhill – Bessie (sop), Peter Glossop – Essex (bass), Leslie Fyson – Silas/Long Tom (bar), Queen Elizabeth – Monica Sinclair – Queen (mezzo sop), Patricia Kern – Jill/Kate (contr) Howard Glynne – Wilkins (bar), Neil Howlett –  Long Tom (bar), Eric Wilson-Hyde – Big Ben (bar)
The Williams Singers
Michael Collins and Orchestra
Rec. Abbey Road Studios, London 1959/1960


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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 arias.

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.

Raymond Walker

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

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