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Sir Arthur SULLIVAN (1842-1900)
Pineapple Poll (arr. Mackerras, 1951) [43:13]
Symphony in E major (Irish) (1866) [35:13]
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/David Lloyd-Jones
rec. Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, August 2006
NAXOS 8.570351 [78:26]
Experience Classicsonline

Pineapple Poll
was a splendid idea, when you think about it. A ballet based on Sullivan's great tunes - drawn mostly from the G&S canon, of course, with sprinklings from Cox and Box and the Overture Di Ballo - was bound to find an immediate audience among Savoyards. On the other hand, the presentation of the music in purely orchestral guise - disencumbered of the more precious mannerisms associated with the genre - might well have won it fans among confirmed G&S haters as well. It really was a no-lose proposition. 

The inherent hazard here for Savoyard types is the almost irresistible tendency to play "name that tune"; I know I'm always "singing along" in my head. But Mackerras was shrewd, arranging most of the longer dances as sequences of shorter chunks, rather than transplanting entire numbers or choruses intact. We hear each theme just long enough to enjoy it, but not so long as to risk getting mired in thoughts of the original sources. 

The bounding energy with which David Lloyd-Jones invests the opening dances helps things along. The successive themes tumble, one upon the next, to kaleidoscopic effect. At first it's hard not to be drawn by the infectious rhythm and forward drive. Soon, however, one notices that the musical characterizations are rather generic: the faster movements are zippy, the lyric ones droop a bit. And there's enough of a sense of untidiness around accompanying figures, a distinct unease at some transitions (In a doleful train almost has a false start) to reveal that Lloyd-Jones's technical control isn't really up to par, though the orchestration, balancing, and engineering conspire to distract us by bringing the melodies well forward.

I suspect Lloyd-Jones likes the Irish Symphony better than the ballet. Certainly he's more nearly on its wavelength, and three of its four movements are nicely turned. The opening movement is taut and dramatic, though the big build-ups are clouded in ambient resonance. The third movement, an Allegretto scherzo, comes off with a jaunty "nautical" flavor -- not Pinafore but Vaughan Williams - expanded into "symphonic" scale. The finale is bracing, with contrasting moments of calm. The snag is the Andante espressivo, which sings forthrightly, but wants more breathing room; more critically, Lloyd-Jones seems deaf to its subtleties of texture.

Mackerras himself has recorded Poll twice; coincidentally, I recently heard the Classics for Pleasure reissue of his first recording, from the early 1960s. Not only is it more crisply played than the new one, but Sir Charles gives the various dances sharper, more individual profiles, phrasing the lyric episodes more affectionately. His Decca remake, too, is impressive, but the brilliant sonics are perhaps too insistently digital. Another Sir Charles - Groves - recorded my favorite Irish Symphony (EMI), but I can't vouch for its availability on silver disc.

Stephen Francis Vasta

see also Review by Michael Greenhalgh



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