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CD 1
H.M.S. Pinafore (1878) (Overture, Act I, Act II Nos 1-3) [1:17:49]
George Baker (baritone) - Sir Joseph Porter
John Cameron (baritone) - Captain Corcoran
Richard Lewis (tenor) - Ralph Rackstraw
Owen Brannigan (bass) - Dick Deadeye
Elsie Morison (soprano) - Josephine
Marjorie Thomas (contralto) - Cousin Hebe
Monica Sinclair (contralto) - Little Buttercup
CD 2
H.M.S. Pinafore (Act II Nos 4-9)
Trial by Jury (1875) [32:49]*
George Baker (baritone) - The Learned Judge
Elsie Morison (soprano) - The Plaintiff
Richard Lewis (tenor) - The Defendant
John Cameron (baritone) - Counsel for the Plaintiff
Owen Brannigan (bass) - Usher
Bernard Turgeon (baritone) - Foreman of the Jury
Glyndebourne Festival Chorus
Pro Arte Orchestra/Sir Malcolm Sargent
rec. Studio No. 1, Abbey Road, April 1958 and *December 1960
CLASSICS FOR PLEASURE 2134332 [57:38 + 53:21]

 

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Since EMI's "Glyndebourne" G&S series of recordings appeared at more or less the same time as the first D'Oyly Carte stereo recordings for Decca, there's a tendency to think of them as being somehow diametrical opposites. Historically this isn't quite accurate: Sir Malcolm Sargent, EMI's conductor, did perform and record with the D'Oyly Carte company back in 78 rpm days, so his leadership does in fact represent a link, however distant, with active D'Oyly Carte theater traditions. The point is important to make, not just because of the unfair charge of untheatricality sometimes levelled at these recordings, but also because of the development of new "traditions" of G&S performance, particularly Stateside, where directors and conductors adopt brisk tempi, tending to scant nuance and phrasing that breathes in an effort to "keep the show moving".

Sargent's account of the Pinafore Overture lets us in on what we're missing. Listen to the heft and swing of the rhythm in the 6/8 dance; the expansive tone when the strings briefly take over the plaintive lyrical theme; the charm and lilt of the "Bell Trio" tunes. In the opening number, the men's chorus is clear, crisp, and perfectly balanced. All this is typical of the performance's success at realizing uniquely musical values in the score. I suppose enthusiasts may carp at one or another of the conductor's choices, in particular the untraditional, quasi a tempo rendering of the coda of Refrain, audacious tar; but the più lento marking isn't a primary tempo change, after all, and I like the idea of retaining the momentum through this final aside, rather than "milking" it. The end of the first Finale, however, strikes me as rather measured; I realize this tempo is more or less standard, but at this speed it's hard for the principals' phrases to become airborne.

Whether you like a G&S performance depends largely on how you like the singers. This cast includes many of the Sargent regulars; they may not be ideal, but then the D'Oyly Carte soloists weren't always the strongest singers, either. Here, the chief stumbling block for me is Richard Lewis, an estimable artist, but wrong for this material. His fussy, puckered enunciation and stiff, "correct" phrasing leave him an old-sounding Ralph Rackstraw, who misses the role's sense of youthful ardor: listen to his cautious way with the vaulting arpeggio at "When we have pain" in Act I. Where Lewis does "let go," it's the wrong thing, as in the shouty rendition of the Act I Glee.

His soprano counterpart, Elsie Morison, has been subject to similar strictures elsewhere in the series, but Josephine actually suits her reasonably well. The character may be another ingenue, but she's a high-class one, and Morison's concert-soprano manner, which can make her other G&S heroines sound stuck-up, gives Josephine some welcome authority. The voice as such is mostly full and round - note the curve through the top A in Refrain, audacious tar - until it reaches the uppermost notes. The top C at the end of the Act II Scena is thin and very, very careful, while the high B capping the Bell Trio doesn't quite get there.

John Cameron's performance as Captain Corcoran is puzzling. The way he "sits on" the legato makes him sound gummy - though his words are mostly clear - and his soft dynamics are simply too soft: he almost croons the proclamatory "Now give three cheers" before Sir Joseph's Act I entrance, and his final aside in the Buttercup recitative, intimately played to begin with, is practically in mike voice. Cameron sings out more in Fair moon, to thee I sing, with a clear, secure top G. The Buttercup, Monica Sinclair, is solid, as always - but what's with all the glottal separations in her first recitative? Fortunately, she drops them soon enough.

Owen Brannigan is a vivid presence as Dick Deadeye, though, surprisingly, he fudges a few of the trickier pitches - some of Deadeye's vocal lines are surprisingly disjunct. Marjorie Thomas doesn't do much with Cousin Hebe - the music by itself doesn't allow for it, though I've seen some strong comedic performances on stage - but she's a strong presence in the ensembles of the first Finale.

I've not mentioned the Sir Joseph of George Baker simply because it's very much the usual George Baker performance. He was an actor rather than a singer, but he's secure with the notes, bringing in a touch of decorous  parlando where appropriate - I appreciate his restraint. 

Trial by Jury was also the filler for the original 2-LP set, and in some ways it seems like a "filler", with signs of hasty preparation. Some of the simpler chorus responses sound under-rehearsed -- the more intricate passages, in numbers like A nice dilemma, are rendered as precisely and brilliantly as ever -- and there are a few unexpected word bobbles. For the Plaintiff's rhyme of "unceasing and "increasing," Morison sings "increasing" both times; and Cameron sings, "Where is the Plaintiff? Let her now be bought" for "brought," as if the trial had been moved to Chicago. I'd always thought the recording might have been made quickly, perhaps in a session left over from something else, but the booklet indicates a full three-day recording period. So much for that idea.

At any rate, the results are still lively and enjoyable. It sounds like the producers were reacting to the charge of "untheatricality": Baker indulges in broader and more frequent parlando than elsewhere in the series; Morison adds a few unscripted swoons; and we hear the sound of splashing water in That she is reeling, though a few lines too early. Everyone participating is in representative form, with Lewis, fortunately, a bit better than that. It's fun.

Stephen Francis Vasta

see also Review by Jonathan Woolf


 


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