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Arthur SULLIVAN (1842-1900)
Yeomen of the Guard, 1888 (complete, without dialogue)
The Gondoliers, 1889 ( ditto)
Ruddigore, 1887 (highlights)
Martin Green, Leonard Osborn, Darrel Fancourt, Richard Watson, Muriel Harding, Ella Halman, Ann Drummond-Grant.
The D’Oyly Carte Opera Company/Isidore Godfrey.
Mono, AAD Recorded 1950.
REGIS RRC 3003 [3CDs: 76.04+77.11+74.56]

The long lasting relationship between the Gilbert and Sullivan Operas and the D’Oyly Carte Company has meant that the audience would see and hear the operas as Gilbert and Sullivan produced them. The miracle is that for most of its history the Company continued to maintain a high degree of freshness that is a compliment to the management of the company and the committed dedication of the artists.

The Company recorded four sets of the Operas, the first two being under the HMV label, first a set of acoustic recordings and then a set in electrical 78s made during the late 1920s. Two sets were also made under the Decca label, the first made around 1950 in mono (the subject of this review); the second in stereo embraced a period between 1959 and 1976 has just been reissued by Decca. Interestingly, extracts of the second HMV sets are available on CD (on the Prism and other labels) and sound surprisingly well. We are thus in a position to compare recordings made over a period of 75 years.

All three performances on this set are successful. Darrel Fancourt with his excellent deep bass baritone voice and clear diction is outstanding in this repertoire. The men tend to dominate (Martin Green, Leonard Osborn and Richard Watson are all impressive in their respective ways), but Muriel Harding with her strong soprano voice also makes a lasting impression, especially as Elsie in yeomen. As usual with this company the ensemble work is outstanding and every word can be heard (if only this were always the case with all opera in English!). The chorus always sings well and was successful as a training ground for future soloists.

The work of the conductor in this repertoire is often underestimated; Sullivan’s orchestration is often very subtle, especially with his distinctive use of the woodwind. At the time of these recordings the company spent a lot of time touring and did not have its own orchestra. The conductor therefore had to take charge of theatre orchestras of variable size and ability. The orchestra used in these recordings is not identified but is probably a recording orchestra of freelance musicians who play well under Isidore Godfrey. Sir Malcolm Sargent helped to learn his trade with his early job as conductor of the D’Oyly Carte (and features on several of the second HMV series) however when he returned to G and S in the 1960s and 1970s (for both EMI and a Decca yeomen) he had lost his original vitality and compared badly with the freshness and vigour exhibited by Isidore Godfrey who conducted this repertoire for over 40 years.

A word of warning about the recording. The CD labels describe Disc One as AAD but the other two discs are labelled as DDD – this is clearly wrong and all three should have been labelled as AAD or as ADD as appropriate. The mono recording sounds clear but there is the slightest fizz on loud passages which suggest a straight AAD transfer from LP pressings. The presentation is excellent with a 16 page booklet with really useful notes by James Murray.

Arthur Baker



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