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Arthur SULLIVAN (1842-1900)
Cox & Box (1866) - a triumviretta - words by F.C. Burnand
Box ... James Gilchrist (tenor)
Cox ... Neal Davies (baritone)
Bouncer ... Donald Maxwell (baritone/bass)
Trial by Jury (1875) - a dramatic cantata, words by W.S. Gilbert
Plaintiff ... Rebecca Evans (soprano)
Defendant ... James Gilchrist (tenor)
Counsel ... Matthew Brook (baritone)
Usher ... Neal Davies (baritone)
Judge ... Donald Maxwell (baritone)
Forman ... David Thaxton (baritone)
Chamber Choir of Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama
BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Richard Hickox
rec. Brangwyn Hall, Swansea, Wales, 11-12 December 2004. DDD
CHANDOS CHAN 10321 [68:19]

 

 



This is an unusual programme to come out of the stable of a BBC/Chandos partnership. With their considerable reputation in promoting opera in English it has always been baffling why Chandos’s interests have hitherto been directed to English translations of continental works. Let’s hope there will be continued interest in the current direction.

With a sprinkling of good Trial by Jury recordings already in the catalogue this coupling had to offer something special to gain attention and in this it has had more success with its version of Cox & Box. The Trial performance is very strong with good singing and lively pace to match.

Donald Maxwell’s aloof portrayal of the Learned Judge is a fresh direction, which contrasts with the common-speak attitude taken by D’Oyly Carte singers. It is a matter of taste for the listener yet for some it may reduce the effectiveness of contradictions lying behind certain lines in ‘When I good friends’. His beautifully resonant baritone/bass voice gives the character its important power.  

Coupled with Trial is Cox & Box, a title which will be the main reason for buying this disc since it is an early version of the piece with some fresh material. Cox & Box went through a number of changes and these need to be explained.

The version usually recorded lasts some 30 minutes and comes from a 1921 version edited by Rupert D’Oyly Carte’s Opera Company as a curtain-raiser.  Over 35 minutes had been cut from the original. The Maddison Morton play, ‘Box & Cox’ had lyrics added by Burnand in 1866 which Sullivan then set to music. The 65 minute piece was initially composed for solo piano accompaniment, an authentic recording of which, complete with dialogue is available (Divine Art 2-4104). Sullivan then orchestrated the piece for a one day Adelphi benefit performance in 1867. He later carried out minor revisions, with a new lullaby setting for a run within the repertoire of London’s Gallery of Illustration in 1869.

What Chandos have done with Cox & Box is to go back to much, but not all, of the original material:

We get an extended opening song ‘Rataplan’, the reinstatement of ‘That two are two, arithmetic explains’ (a normally omitted first verse of ‘Now, coals is coals’) and extra related material. Why the second version of the haunting lullaby, ‘Hush, is the bacon’ (1869) has been used I’m not sure because it appears in all previous recordings. It could have been presented as a bonus track if the producer thought so much of it. A catchy ‘Sixes’ duet is missing and should have been reinstated. I understand that studio time was running out and a late decision was made to drop it, despite over ten minutes space being unused on the CD — a golden opportunity missed. However, the original finale has been included for good measure.

All soloists are strong and in good form: all baritones are excellent with clear diction and good expression. Neal Davies makes a good Cox and is probably the best sub-principal Usher I have heard. A highly pompous Counsel in Matthew Brook delivered his part with aristocratic RADA vowels that give extra colour. Rebecca Evans sings well but as the Plaintiff was a shade mature for the slip of a girl she represents. The very fast pace of ‘I love him’ [tr. 30] works well and amplifies the emotions to match the lyrics. Both men and women’s choruses supported well and it is good to hear the words in their singing.

The balance between voices and orchestra is ideal and Hickox nicely brings out the nuances of the score in Trial by Jury. His pace from the opening is lively throughout and he manages to shave half a minute off the later Decca Godfrey D’Oyly Carte recording of 1964 [LK4579]. A benchmark set by Isidore Godfrey in Decca’s D’Oyly Carte production of 1949 [LK 4001] still holds good and for me is the best. It has a real tingle factor in ‘A nice dilemma’ with its gabble of chorus adding a truly chaotic excitement. The later Godfrey and Hickox recordings don’t quite convey the energy Godfrey initially achieved with such powerful crescendos.

Cox & Box is provided with sections of dialogue plus some linking commentary by Donald Maxwell. I understand the reasons for the links and they work much better than those supplied for The Zoo (Decca, London 436 807-2). Good and detailed notes by David Russell Hulme map the period of activity surrounding both productions. There’s also the substantial libretto in English, French and German.

Mention in the notes of Gilbert appearing more than once in Trial as ‘The Advocate’ must be an error. He appeared as the Associate, only once I believe, in a Ellen Terry Jubilee Commemoration in 1906 at Drury Lane Theatre, London.

Raymond J. Walker

 

 

 

 

 



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