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Arthur SULLIVAN (1842-1900)
Patience, comic opera (1881)
Libretto by William S. Gilbert (1836-1911)
Martyn Green, Bunthorne bar; Ann Drummond-Grant, Lady Saphir mezzo sop; Margaret Mitchell, Patience sop; Ella Halman, Lady Jane cont; Alan Styler, Grosvenor bar; Peter Pratt Major Murgatroyd bar; Darrell Fancourt Colonel Calverly bass; Neville Griffiths/Leonard Osborn, Duke of Dunstable tenor
D'Oyly Carte chorus and orchestra/Isidore Godfrey
Rec. Decca Studios, London. 1951
NAXOS 8.110233 [70.38]

Comparison recordings: Other CDs of this 1951 Patience recording: Pearl (coupled with Iolanthe) GEMS0163; Sounds on CD

Decca did extraordinarily well with their 1949 D'Oyly Carte contract. Under its terms they took over the output of G&S from the first post-war recordings until the last D'Oyly Carte recordings of the 1970s. This third generation of DOC recordings, now out of copyright, has been taken up by Pearl and Sounds on CD and now, rather belatedly, by Naxos. Decca originally released this disc as an LP set in their LK label series. The recording is amongst the last conventionally cut 78-rpm wax UK masters. It was transferred to LP in 1951.

Arthur Sullivan was one of Britain’s important composers of the Victorian age. Although remembered chiefly for his G&S operas some gems are to be found amongst his other theatre music, songs, symphony and oratorio. He received his musical training, firstly as a chorister (Chapel Royal) and later as a student at the Royal Academy of Music, London. A Mendelssohn scholarship took him to Leipzig where he studied the music of the German romantics. As a composer he was skilled in providing catchy melodies and songs with good orchestration. His example even led to the cultivation of a unique genre of English operetta, the Savoy Opera.

With witty lyrics by W.S. Gilbert, the Gilbert & Sullivan comic operas have stood the test of time and are still popular today [type 'Gilbert & Sullivan' in your search engine to find all sites and links]. The partnership between Gilbert and Sullivan was initiated by the enterprising theatre manager, Richard D'Oyly Carte. It was Carte who brought them together to write fourteen comic operas, the sixth of which was Patience.

This Patience recording was released in the Festival of Britain year (1951) and much effort was made to ensure that the production was of optimum quality. As with earlier recordings, the specification of the orchestra amounts to an augmented theatre orchestra. The playing is excellent in every way even if the strings lack that fullness we expect nowadays. Under the direction of D'Oyly Carte's resident musical director, Isidore Godfrey, we are given a lively reading with more sensitivity than that expressed in some of Sargent's EMI recordings of the period.

This particular Patience recording is unique for those who follow the cast history of the D'Oyly Carte company. It is the only occasion when the two principal patter leads play together in the same recording. The principal tenor is sung by both the retiring Osborn and a step-in Griffiths.

Of the cast, Martyn Green, Ella Halman, Ann Drummond-Grant and Leonard Osborn were long-serving Savoyards who played these roles on stage both pre-war and post-war. Margaret Mitchell and Alan Styler joined the company in the 1940s. We thus have an experienced stage-performing cast brought into the studio. These are all names remembered with affection by the over-sixties. Green had directly replaced Henry Lytton who in the last decade of his career became a poor singer. (In the earlier 78s HMV Sargent electric recordings (c.1930) Lytton's parts were played by George Baker who had never appeared on stage yet offered HMV excellent diction and clarity of voice.) It is probably the marked contrast with Lytton that has caused Green to be remembered so warmly. Like Baker, Green's musicality and diction is good.

Margaret Mitchell is a confident, warm-toned soprano who portrays the naïve but common sense Patience admirably. Ann Drummond-Grant, wife of Isidore Godfrey, was a long-serving member of the company by the time of this recording. Starting out as a soprano, her pleasant characteristic voice had mellowed to a rich mezzo by the time of this recording. Her velvety timbre and attention to dynamics is captured here nicely. The ageing Leonard Osborn was ill during the recording sessions and only sings in track 12 'In rite sacrificial'. He is replaced by Neville Griffiths for the rest of the recording, a youthful tenor whom I personally prefer. Ella Halman is a suitably dominant Lady Jane with characteristically heavy timbre and usual clear diction, as was Gillian Knight who followed her. Alan Styler's 'A magnet hung in a hardware shop' is enjoyable yet he doesn't seem to exude the radiance provided by Kenneth Sandford in the later Decca recording.

The orchestra and musical direction is confident under Godfrey though the piece lacks in dynamics when compared with the later recording.

The recording has a medium acoustic avoiding the characteristic 'box' effect of the early post-war recordings. The more spacious Watford and Walthamstow Town Hall locations with their modern miking of the Savoy Operas was yet to arrive.

A note about the transcription: unlike some of the earlier operas in this series that were cut as 78 matrices, this one was recorded as an early tape master.

Further information: Bk. Gilbert & Sullivan, Ainger (Routledge 2003) with review at http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2003/Mar03/ainger.htm

Raymond Walker



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