W. S. GILBERT (1836-1911) and Arthur SULLIVAN (1842-1900)
Iolanthe (1882) [1:35:58]
Act I [55:28]
Act II [33:11]
George Baker (baritone) - The Lord Chancellor
Ian Wallace (baritone) - Earl of Mountararat
Alexander Young (tenor) - Earl Tolloller
Owen Brannigan (bass) - Private Willis
John Cameron (baritone) - Strephon
Monica Sinclair (contralto) - Queen of the Fairies
Marjorie Thomas (contralto) - Iolanthe
April Cantelo (soprano) - Celia
Heather Harper (soprano) - Leila
Elsie Morison (soprano) - Phyllis
Arthur SULLIVAN (1842-1900)
Overture di Ballo (1870) [8:54]+
Glyndebourne Festival Chorus and Pro Arte Orchestra/Sir Malcolm Sargent
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sir Malcolm Sargent +
rec. Studio No. 1, Abbey Road, October and *April 1958; +Kingsway Hall, March 1958. ADD
CLASSICS FOR PLEASURE 2134392 [64:26 + 43:05]
This, like other installments in the "Glyndebourne" G&S series, concentrates, refreshingly, on doing justice to the musical side of the performance. It mostly succeeds, though it falls short of the highest expectations.
In big chorus-and-orchestra works, the choral singing would frequently be the special glory of Sir Malcolm Sargent's performances. Even though someone else - Peter Gellhorn, in this case - did the actual nitty-gritty choral training, Sargent had a knack for eliciting trim, rhythmically alert singing from both professional ensembles and amateur choral societies. Much of the time, it is so here: the men's and women's choruses, separately and together, are beautifully blended, balanced, and "present", save for the bashful altos in Strephon's a Member of Parliament. But I was surprised to hear both groups swallowing, even neglecting, final plosive consonants in Act I - they're not essential to intelligibility, but would make a cleaner effect - and to hear doubling principals over-holding notes in the last section of Finale I. Assorted flaws of this sort, including a clearly sharp entry by the Mountararat in Act I, and the odd word slip from one or another of the principals in Act II, suggest that the sessions were completed under some time pressure.
No, this time it's Sir Malcolm's work with the orchestra that comes off best. He projects the overture - one of the few that Sir Arthur composed himself, rather than handing off the task to an assistant, Broadway-style - in a long, arching line, smoothly eliding sections, making the aural seams between sections disappear. The Act II opening and the start of Mountararat's aria suggest the right pomp and splendor though the introduction to the March of the Peers strains at it and that to the Trio, If you go in, has a lively music-hall energy. Atmosphere, on the other hand, wasn't one of Sargent's strengths; he misses the nocturnal colors latent in the Act I opening and O foolish fay and there's a few poky, stolid tempi.
The principals are capable - certainly stronger than your average D'Oyly Carte line-up - even if some of them opt for an affected articulation that I call "oratorio English". If you're already familiar with this series, you'll find George Baker's rendering of the Lord Chancellor very George Bakerish. He actually sings the music more than D'Oyly Carte comic baritones generally did, without sacrificing the sense of a comic performance in the process. Here and there in the notorious "Nightmare Song", he trips on a syllable or two; but the piece is ferociously difficult, and since Baker, to my knowledge, never performed these roles on stage, I'm inclined to cut him some slack.
John Cameron is a good Strephon. His habit of pulling away from the voice "expressively" sounds merely precious; otherwise, he voices legato lines with firm, virile tone, and sings all the printed notes, including the high G and the low G (!). His first duet with Elsie Morison's Phyllis, None shall part us, proves one of the first act's highlights. The soprano, by the way, gives one of her most appealing performances of this series. Phyllis lies low for a G&S heroine, and Morison, not having to fight the role's tessitura, spins phrases with a welcome freshness and ease.
Lord Tolloller is one of the rare Savoy tenors who's a character man, but the energy with which Alexander Young launches the Act II Quartet, Though p'rhaps I may incur your blame, would suit a romantic hero admirably - and he's a good singer. Ian Wallace, as his baritone counterpart, Mountararat, is serviceable, but his oratorio English is a busy distraction. Owen Brannigan is a flavorful Private Willis who clearly wants the refrain of his song to go faster than Sargent does, and gets his way.
On the distaff side, Monica Sinclair is solid and verbally alert, and she avoids turning the Fairy Queen into another contralto battle-ax, which she isn't, really. Marjorie Thomas's lighter instrument aptly suits the title role -- what Savoyards call a "soubrette" - but her phrasing can be static. The two chorus leads are assumed by sopranos, April Cantelo and Heather Harper, who later became prominent; their assumptions, however, aren't anything special.
The filler is an Overture di Ballo that, at least Stateside, used to pop in and out of the catalogues. Sargent's leadership here isn't exactly galvanic - Sir Charles Groves's later account (EMI, originally with the Irish Symphony) is more smartly disciplined but he really gets the piece. I've never heard a performance that so consistently realizes the dance spirit evoked by the title. Even the big brass entry at 6:32 maintains a balletic lightness.
Although this series made a point of omitting the dialogue, this production does include the Fairy Queen's spoken imprecations in the first finale - and the Peers' exclamations - without which the sequence of tremolos would make little sense. Digital tweaking has focused the originally hazy sonics, though the brasses in the March of the Peers hint at a hollow, blasting quality.
Stephen Francis Vasta
Mostly succeeds though it falls short of the highest expectations.