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CD: Crotchet


Sir Arthur SULLIVAN (1842–1900) and Sir William S. GILBERT (1836–1911)
The Yeomen of the Guard (1888) [93.28]
Sir Richard Cholmondeley – Denis Dowling (baritone)
Colonel Fairfax – Richard Lewis (tenor)
Sergeant Merryll – John Cameron (baritone)
Leonard Merryll – Alexander Young (tenor)
Jack Point – Sir Geraint Evans (baritone)
Wilfred Shadbolt – Owen Brannigan (bass)
First Yeoman – Alexander Young (tenor)
Second Yeoman – John Carol Case (baritone)
Elsie Maynard – Elsie Morison (soprano)
Phoebe Meryll – Marjorie Thomas (contralto)
Dame Carruthers – Monica Sinclair (contralto)
Kate – Doreen Hume (soprano)
Glyndebourne Festival Chorus
Pro Arte Orchestra/Sir Malcolm Sargent
rec. No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London, 10-14 December 1957
CLASSICS FOR PLEASURE 2134652 [55.49 + 37.39]
Experience Classicsonline

It was from this recording that I learned The Yeomen of the Guard in the 1970s. Then I enjoyed its strong musical values and distinguished cast and all the roles were sung by fine operatic voices. Returning to it after a considerable gap I am still impressed with the credentials of the cast. From Richard Lewis as Colonel Fairfax down to Alexander Young as Leonard Merryll and the First Yeoman it is indeed a mouth-watering cast.
The conductor, Malcolm Sargent, had a distinguished history as a conductor of Gilbert and Sullivan, having worked with the D’Oyly Carte Opera in the 1920s. He also recorded some of the operas with them at this time. He returned to the Savoy Operas in the 1950s when he recorded nine of them for EMI, all with singers from opera and oratorio rather than the D’Oyly Carte. Sargent also recorded Yeomen of the Guard and Princess Ida in the 1960s again with D’Oyly Carte for Decca, with Elizabeth Harwood in the soprano parts.
Yeomen of the Guard was the most serious of the librettos which Gilbert produced for Sullivan; not that the operetta is really serious. However it lacks most of the topsy-turvy elements that crop up in the other operettas. Some familiar aspects are present: what with mistaken-identity, falsifying a death and the usual elderly contralto desperate to marry. That said, Gilbert embeds them in a more earnest world; even his jester is a sad clown and the whole piece has a less farcical feel.
Colonel Fairfax is an almost entirely serious character so he makes a good foil for Richard Lewis who plays him completely straight and embeds Fairfax’s upright character in his mellifluous tones. Lewis also demonstrates the advantage of having a cast of this vintage; he, like all the cast, sing with superb diction.
Jack Point is a role which I always associated with Derek Hammond Stroud, who had the most wonderful ability to be sad and funny at the same time. He brought out the innate pathos of the character. Sir Geraint Evans does not quite do that but he is pretty impressive and charming. He and Elsie Morrison as Elsie Maynard make their opening number, I have a song to sing, profoundly moving.
Neither Lewis nor Evans, however, sound as if they are really in a dramatic production of the operetta. This is the set’s biggest drawback: the individual numbers, lovely as they are, do not always add up to a complete dramatic performance. Much of this surely can be laid at Sargent’s door, which is surprising given his history with Gilbert and Sullivan.  Evans, though, makes neat work of the patter numbers which are allocated to Point.
Elsie Morrison has an attractive, soubrettish voice with a noticeable vibrato. She sings neatly enough and with a degree of personality but you feel that ultimately she lacks the element of steel which is required of a G&S heroine. Elsie Maynard is more than a shrinking violet, she has backbone, but Elsie Morrison does not completely bring this off. Also, I felt at times that she struggled a bit to make herself heard, which on the face of it would seem unlikely given Sullivan’s careful orchestration and could perhaps be attributable to the recording.
Marjorie Thomas as the second female lead, Phoebe, has an attractive soft-grained contralto voice which contrasts suitably with the strong contralto of Monica Sinclair in the role of Dame Carruthers. Unfortunately Thomas seems to be content to coast along, singing nicely but not doing much else. Perhaps the lack of dialogue hampered her but her Phoebe seems to entirely miss the sharp, minx-ish element which is so essential to the character. It is this quality which provides strong contrast with her putative fiancé Wilfred Shadbolt.
Shadbolt is played by Owen Brannigan and he proves immensely effective at making each little vocal gesture tell. Maybe on the stage Brannigan’s Shadbolt would seem a trifle over-done, but here in a performance struggling to create drama, Brannigan’s characterful performance stands out.
Monica Sinclair provides a strongly musical Dame Carruthers. She gets two striking numbers to sing but generally the character is under-written, so Sinclair compensates with her familiar distinctive contralto voice. John Cameron makes a strong Sergeant Merryll who gets his moment in the spotlight with his grumpy duet with Sinclair’s Dame Carruthers.
At times the Glyndebourne Festival Chorus sound untidy. Their performance is adequate and sometimes creditable but you can find better choral performances on other discs. The Pro Arte Orchestra, under Sargent’s direction, accompany neatly and crisply.
Undoubtedly this performance has been overtaken by other recordings. Sargent’s 1964 recording with the D’Oyly Carte - with Elizabeth Harwood as Elsie - is notable for its sense of drama and pacing, though Charles Mackerras’s account with WNO is notable and provides a recording with modern sound. For those wanting dialogue, it is worth hunting out the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields account.
But this is a disc that I would still want on my shelves, even though it has drawbacks. Its charm is its strongly operatic cast who provide superb diction, high musical values and a wonderful opportunity to hear some fine English singers letting their hair down a little.
Robert Hugill


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