Edward GERMAN (1862-1936)
Tom Jones - A comic opera in three Acts (1907)
Marianne Hellgren Staykov (soprano) - Sophia Weston; Richard Morrison (tenor) - Tom Jones; Heather Shipp (mezzo) - Honour; Donald Maxwell (baritone) - Squire Western; Simon Butteriss (baritone) - Gregory; Richard Suart (baritone) - Ben Partridge; Rachel Harland (soprano) - Betty; Elizabeth Menezes (soprano) - Peggy
National Festival Chorus and Orchestra/David Russell Hulme
rec. Concert Hall, Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, England. 2008
NAXOS 8.660270-71 [75:49 + 34:20]

Previous reviews of this engaging 2 CD set have laid out the background to German’s Tom Jones and have delved into the composer’s representation on disc. Much given to antiquarianism though I am, I shall on this occasion not delve into German’s own conductorial sessions back in the days of 78s, and instead get down to the matter in hand.

Let me first of all say that those who may have held onto their LPs of highlights conducted by lighter-music specialist (Hunter’s Moon et al) Gilbert Vinter should keep them for archival reasons, but should otherwise gravitate to this, the first ever recording of the whole operetta, or comic opera, or whatever you prefer to call it.

There are plenty of enjoyable moments along the way and this review is a brief overview of some of them. The Introduction to Act I with its Sir Roger de Coverley moments is spry and immediately winning. So too are the recurrent hunting motifs, a hint of roast beef that German indulges so well. Donald Maxwell’s broad accent is a piece of inspiring buffo characterisation - try Act I’s neatly titled On a Januairy Morning. The hero, Tom Jones himself, is sung by Richard Morrison whose suitably virile presence, signalled by a notably well despatched West Country Lad, is a considerable advantage throughout. Another characterful singer, as one may well have anticipated, is Richard Suart, whose Benjamin Partridge is just as effective as Maxwell’s Squire Western. Suart’s A Person of Parts is both a deliciously lilting song and a splendidly put across number. The Sophia is Marianne Hellgren Staykov who sings with simplicity, purity and command of the music’s melodic line. Her Act II Long maketh the heart, for instance, is affectingly done. It’s a shame that the final note of her Waltz song is less than stellar, but it’s over very quickly. Heather Shipp, the Maid has a most attractive lightish mezzo, and first class diction too.

The chorus has been well prepared, and so too the approach to trios and sextets and act finales. Note therefore the ale chorus that is The Barley Mow in Act I. There’s real buoyancy and rhythmical underpinning; what might otherwise be somewhat twee is here fully roistering and ardently embraced. German’s orchestration at such moments shouldn’t be underestimated either. It’s quite opulent when need be - or sounds quite opulent, one should say, due to his canny craftsmanship - but he can winnow to a pertinent brief point too. Elgar was always a genuine admirer of German - the feeling was reciprocated - and I’m sure the older man would have relished Act III’s song If love’s content with its richly romantic patina and instantly attractive lyricism.

The additional numbers represent items discarded during the original production and serves as an appendix to end the second disc. They’re uniformly enjoyable and their reinstatement, at least as regards performance - they’re not replaced in the running order of the recorded score - is a triumph for all concerned. The sound is first class and the forces inspiring. The lyrics can be downloaded - the address is on the back of the jewel box.

Which just leaves David Russell Hulme. His immersion in the genre and exploration of German’s music, as well as his restoration and editorial work, has been of the utmost significance in the success of the set. He is an inspiring ‘German conductor’ and a great deal of the success of this recording is down to him.

Jonathan Woolf

see also reviews by Raymond Walker and Ian Lace