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W.S. GILBERT (1836-1911) and Arthur SULLIVAN (1842-1900)
The Gondoliers (1889) [96:45]
Sir Geraint Evans (baritone) - Duke of Plaza-Toro
Alexander Young (tenor) - Luiz
Owen Brannigan (bass) - Don Alhambra
Richard Lewis (tenor) - Marco
John Cameron (baritone) - Giuseppe
Monica Sinclair (alto) - Duchess of Plaza-Toro
Edna Graham (soprano) - Casilda
Elsie Morison (soprano) - Gianetta
Marjorie Thomas (alto) - Tessa
Glyndebourne Festival Chorus
Pro Arte Orchestra/Sir Malcolm Sargent
Arthur SULLIVAN (1842-1900)
Cello Concerto in D (ed. Mackerras and Mackie) (1866) [17:28]*
Julian Lloyd Webber (cello)
London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Charles Mackerras
rec. No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London, March 1957 and *April 1986
CLASSICS FOR PLEASURE 2134282 [57:56 + 56:17]
Experience Classicsonline

The received wisdom among Savoyards is that Sir Malcolm Sargent's Glyndebourne recordings of the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, while musically shipshape, lack the theatrical excitement and flair of the "official" D'Oyly Carte documents. As frequently is the case, the received wisdom was perhaps better left unreceived on this occasion.
 
In this early instalment of the Glyndebourne series, Sargent's performance has plenty of zip, especially in the score's dancier sections. The waltz that concludes Act I's seventeen-minute opening number (!) has a nice swing; the 6/8 meters at the end of Act I and in the Act II quintet are buoyant and airborne; the Gavotte is crisp and pointed. Some of the quieter passages go inert and foursquare; fortunately, there aren't many. As an old G&S hand, I was especially taken by Sargent's expert handling of the "pivots" - tempo adjustments for comedic intent - in several numbers, and by his sensible, though unmarked, tempo changes in Finale II. The conductor elicits fine work from the well-trained chorus - although he doesn't always ensure uniform phrasing among the principals - and the orchestral playing has a rhythmic alertness leagues beyond what Isidore Godfrey's flabby beat could achieve for the D'Oyly Carte.
 
The solo singing overall is better than the D'Oyly Carte's, and, although not informed by any specific theatrical traditions, no less engaging. The four "romantic" leads - Elsie Morison (Gianetta), Marjorie Thomas (Tessa), Richard Lewis (Marco) and John Cameron (Giuseppe) - do occasionally fall short of expectations. Morison's presence as this cycle's principal soprano, in fact, ranks as one of the great discographic enigmas. She doesn't sing badly - floating a respectable B flat in her little arietta - but her medium-weight voice is less fresh and fluid than one wants. Neither she nor the capable Lewis sounds quite young enough, whatever their ages at the time of recording. Thomas's mezzo, at once burnished and transparent, sounds lovely in When a merry maiden marries, but her phrasing, while musical, is placid, and her parlando in her Regular Royal Queen solo is arch. Cameron, at least, offers a chipper Rising early in the morning at Sargent's pattery pace. The four soloists mostly function well as a unit - bringing a nice animation to Regular Royal Queen, for example - but occasionally come unstuck: their ritard at "On one point rather sore" in Finale II, for example, is conspicuously not together.
 
The ducal party is more consistent. Sir Geraint Evans articulates and inflects the Duke of Plaza-Toro's music on a full, steady stream of tone, without the lumbering quality that would creep into his Jack Point a bit later. His Duchess, Monica Sinclair, brings a firm contralto presence and forthright manner to the ensembles without overdoing the one-woman armada effect in her Act II song. Alexander Young is a good Luiz, sounding more youthful than Lewis, the ostensible tenor lead. Edna Graham rides the top lines of the ensembles with shiny tone, but sounds oddly uptight in Casilda's love music.
 
Bridging the two sides of the cast is the flavorful Don Alhambra of Owen Brannigan, like Evans a singing character actor. Among the smaller roles, the young Helen Watts sings Giulia's two demanding solo lines with lustrous tone, and doubles as Inez in the final scene; James Milligan, singing both Antonio and Giorgio, manages to differentiate them when they have consecutive lines.
 
The 1970s US Seraphim LP issue of this Gondoliers suffered from diffuse sound, and I was looking forward to an improvement here. The compact, focused tuttis certainly come to life in this issue, and the brass reproduction is surprisingly deep for its time. But violins and woodwinds behind the vocals remain foggy and hard to "place". And it sounds as if the Overture had a different mike set-up from the rest of the opera: the brilliant opening chord of Act I makes no more impact than the Overture's quieter final chord, though it certainly should.
 
The manuscript score and orchestral parts to Sir Arthur's Cello Concerto, according to Tom Higgins's booklet note, were destroyed in a 1964 fire. Sir Charles Mackerras, who had conducted the piece for a 1953 broadcast, undertook a reconstruction in the 1980s, working from the manuscript solo part with orchestral indications, as well as from memory. The work flanks a broad, cantabile slow movement with two faster, flashier movements; it's comparatively slight, but appealing nonetheless.
 
The soloist here, Julian Lloyd Webber, produces a lovely rich timbre on the lower strings, which is par for most cellists. What's distinctive is the way he carries some of that darkness into the tone quite a way up the A string, avoiding the nasal sounds of some other practitioners. He "sings" the Andante espressivo ardently, and projects the busywork of the outer movements with consistently full-bodied tone. Sir Charles's podium support, as you might guess, is adept and knowing, and the engineering is vivid, with perhaps a touch of an early-digital edge.
 
One question: what's to become of the concerto's original LP coupling, the Victor Herbert concerto? Surely it shouldn't remain in digital limbo.
 
Stephen Francis Vasta
 
Other G&S operettas conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent on CfP
The Mikado
Yeomen of the Guard

 


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