Sir Arthur SULLIVAN (1840-1900)
The Mikado - Comic Opera in Two Acts [86:36]
Overtures: The Pirates of Penzance [7:00]; HMS Pinafore [3:46]; Iolanthe [6:59]; Pineapple Poll - Ballet (arr. Sir Charles Mackerras) [42:30]
The Mikado – The Mikado – Donald Adams (bass); Nanki-Poo – Thomas Round (tenor); Ko-Ko – Peter Pratt (baritone); Pooh-Bah – Kenneth Sandford (baritone); Pish-Tush – Alan Styler (baritone); Go-To – Owen Grundy (baritone); Yum-Yum – Jean Hindmarsh (soprano); Pitti-Sing – Beryl Dixon (mezzo); Peep-Bo – Jennifer Toye (soprano); Katisha – Ann Drummond-Grant (alto);
Chorus of the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company
New Symphony Orchestra of London/Isidore Godfrey (conductor)
Overtures – Boston Promenade Orchestra/Arthur Fiedler; Pineapple Poll – Pro Arte Orchestra/John Hollingsworth
rec. October 1957, Kingsway Hall (The Mikado), 1952 (Overtures), 1958 (Pineapple Poll):
Synopses included but no text
MAGDALEN METCD 8002 [73:33 + 73:31]

The first nearly complete recording of The Mikado was made in 1906, followed quickly by another in 1907. It was ten years before the D’Oyly Carte Company made its first version, but after this, at regular intervals, other productions were issued right up to the company’s demise as a performing entity. The 1973 version with John Reed is probably the best known, followed by those of 1950 and 1936, both with Martyn Green (it’s usually simplest to refer to sets by the artist singing Ko-Ko) although for many, including me, the 1926 version with Henry Lytton is by some way the best. The present version by comparison with all of these is frequently overlooked, and I believe has only been issued on CD by the now inactive Sounds on CD company. This makes the present issue particularly welcome as it has many features which make it worth hearing, even if you already have one or more versions already.

A quick look at the cast immediately makes clear that this is likely to be a version of considerable interest. The names of Donald Adams and Thomas Round would be sufficient recommendation in themselves, and their performances are indeed all you would expect. The pleasure of hearing singers in this music who have both the voice and an understanding of the style is considerable. Like almost all on this set their diction is admirably clear but at the same time free of the prissiness which affected earlier D’Oyly Carte versions. I have never understood why Peter Pratt is not rated higher amongst enthusiasts. His Ko-Ko may be less knowing than most, more obviously the cheap tailor, with a quick wit but well out of his depth. The ladies are all good and the only disappointment for me was Kenneth Sandford whose Pooh-Bah lacks the pomposity essential for the role. Isidore Godfrey is on splendid form with a much better – and much better recorded – chorus and orchestra than he had been allowed in his earlier versions. The recording is clearly not modern but does not sound to be anything like half a century old. It is perfectly acceptable unless you insist on something wholly up to date; in which case you will also be denying yourself the immense pleasure of listening to the even better performed 1926 version. It will be very much a matter of individual preference as to how you rate the present version compared with those by Mackerras and other non-D’Oyly Carte productions, but this must surely be amongst the best now available.

The extras are interesting if unlikely to be decisive. The Overtures are neatly played but without any special merits, and whilst it is interesting to hear Pineapple Poll conducted by other than its arranger, the rival version on Naxos by David Lloyd-Jones is much better as a performance and as a recording. It is nonetheless good to have these additional items. The synopsis is clear although no text is included, and there are interesting notes on the performers. The back cover of the booklet states that Magdalen’s “motivation comes from a collector’s wish to share some of the glorious recordings which remain in the memory”. Indeed the presentation and choice of items does feel in some ways like being with an enthusiast who draws records from his shelves asking if you have heard them and insisting on playing them. The transfers are not especially noteworthy and the result is broadly comparable with my memories of hearing the originals rather than any great improvement on them. There is nonetheless plenty to enjoy here, and I look forward to further releases from Magdalen, including, I gather, the 1957 version of The Pirates of Penzance – another real delight.

John Sheppard

There is plenty to enjoy here.