Sir ARTHUR SULLIVAN (1842-1900)
Overtures and Choruses
rec. 1959-1982. ADD
Full track listing at end of review
DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 1285 [69.09 + 77.52]

This is a marvellous and well-presented double disc compilation consisting of all of Sullivan’s overtures as well as popular choruses from a wide variety of the most well known operettas. The overtures are not only those that are often heard and therefore the most popular but we also have some uncommon ones and, in the case of the Marmion Overture some that are only rarely performed.

The performances are what one might be tempted to call historic with legendary conductors like Isidore Godfrey dating from 1959 right up to 1982 and Sir Charles Mackerras. All these analogue recordings have been wonderfully transferred with great clarity. The seven page booklet essay by Raymond Tuttle is a model of its kind taking us through Sullivan’s life and his work - and not only with Gilbert. The basic plot outlines are given and the article also gives details of Sullivan’s work outside the partnership which he considered to be his real vocation. No texts are supplied.

It is known that Sullivan either hadn’t the time or could not be bothered to cobble together his own overtures. It is generally considered, as Raymond Tuttle’s note states, that Sullivan wrote only the Mendelssohnian Iolanthe overture (one of the longest) also Princess Ida (one of the shortest), The Gondoliers and The Grand Duke. The Overture Patience was, apparently orchestrated by none other than Eugen d’Albert (1864-1932), at that time studying with Sullivan. The rest seem to have fallen to the rather forgotten figure of Hamilton Clarke (1840-1912). Whereas Sullivan was often expansive and even symphonic, espousing a kind of sonata-form approach, Clark puts together a potpourri, presumably under Sullivan’s guidance. This takes the pattern of a rousing start then a romantic melody often associated with the female lead then a faster section from a patter-song ending with the opening or the music which is to begin Act 1 or the finale of that Act. Yet the overtures are fascinatingly different and always fun as well as being well orchestrated. Just to demonstrate that Sullivan could do ‘dramatic’ listen to the Macbeth overture, which is quite powerful even if one wonders at the end if it did really reflect the tragedy as Shakespeare wrote it. The Marmion Overture is a concert item inspired by the 1808 novel by Sir Walter Scott about the battle of Flodden Field. Scott inspired Sullivan again many years later in writing a full length opera Ivanhoe (superbly recorded at long last by Chandos) with a libretto by Julian Sturgis.

The second disc begins with three overtures then has a string of choruses, in fact nineteen in all from eleven of the operettas. The ones not represented are Utopia Ltd but at least we hear its rather pompous Imperial march and The Grand Duke which proved to be a dismal flop. Incidentally G&S also collaborated on a piece called Thespis their first theatrical work but much of the music has been lost. One could argue that this CD offers a slightly unsuccessful arrangement as some choruses are so short that the listener can’t quite ‘get their teeth’ into anything. However on reflection I admit that these have been well chosen and offer an enjoyable overview. Diction is generally clear and the singing is just as you might expect from a famous professional chorus like D’Oyly Carte in 1969. The extracts are thoughtfully divided between those for mixed chorus, those for males and those for females. There are, as ever, several choruses which one feels should be in this compilation, and a few like those from Patience which are pleasantly surprising. The disc ends with one of Sullivan’s catchiest numbers the Fandango from The Gondoliers.

What is an especial relief about this set is that although we have recordings from a wide variety of venues and dates the listener does not need to keep adjusting the volume control: the transfers are not only immaculate but also at a strong and consistent level.

Gary Higginson

This is a marvellous and well-presented double disc compilation.

Full track listing:

Sir Arthur SULLIVAN (1842-1900)
CD 1 [69:09]
1 The Gondoliers [6:33]
The New Symphony Orchestra of London/Isidore Godfrey
2 The Mikado [7:29]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Royston Nash
3 Ruddigore [6:31]
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/Isidore Godfrey
4 Cox and Box [2:39]
The New Symphony Orchestra of London/Isidore Godfrey
5 Patience [5:26]
The New Symphony Orchestra of London/Isidore Godfrey
6 The Grand Duke [5:14]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Royston Nash
7 Princess Ida [3:34]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Malcolm Sargent
8 The Sorcerer [5:33]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Isidore Godfrey
9 The Yeomen of the Guard [5:10]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Malcolm Sargent
10 H. M. S. Pinafore [4:28]
The New Symphony Orchestra of London/Isidore Godfrey
11 Iolanthe [7:30]
The New Symphony Orchestra of London/Isidore Godfrey
12 The Pirates of Penzance [8:02]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Isidore Godfrey

CD 2 [77:52]
1 Overture di Ballo [10:51]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Sir Charles Mackerras
2 Macbeth Overture [8:18]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Royston Nash
3 Marmion Overture [7:59]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Royston Nash
4 Imperial March (Utopia, Limited) [6:32]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Royston Nash
5 Loudly let the trumpet bray - Iolanthe [5:21]
6 Strephon’s a member of Parliament - Iolanthe [1:30]
7 With Strephon for you foe - Iolanthe [2:22]
8 Pour, oh pour the pirate sherry - The Pirates of Penzance [1:34]
9 Hail Poetry, thou heav’n born maid! - The Pirates of Penzance [1:07]
10 With cat-like tread - The Pirates of Penzance [2:33]
11 We sail the ocean blue - H. M. S. Pinafore [2:12]
12 Over the bright blue sea - H. M. S. Pinafore [2:43]
13 Welcome, gentry - Ruddigore [2:29]
14 Behold the Lord High Executioner - The Mikado [2:27]
15 Comes a train of little ladies - The Mikado [2:15]
16 Hark the hour of Ten is sounding - Trial by Jury [1:25]
17 The soldiers of our Queen - Patience [0:52]
18 Here’s a man of jollity - The Yeomen of the Guard [1:19]
19 Tower warders under orders - The Yeomen of the Guard [3:24]
20 Mighty maiden with a mission - Princess Ida [1:22]
21 When anger spreads his wing - Princess Ida [1:21]
22 With heart and voice - The Sorcerer [2:13]
23 Ring forth, ye bells - The Sorcerer [1:50]
24 Dance a cachucha, fandango, bolero - The Gondoliers [2:03]
D’Oyly Carte Opera Chorus
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/James Walker
rec. Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London, UK, July 1962 (Ruddigore), April 1964 (The Yeomen of the Guard); Watford Town Hall, Watford, UK, August 1959 (H.M.S. Pinafore); September 1960 (Iolanthe, The Gondoliers), September 1961 (Patience); Decca Studios, West Hampstead, London, UK, May 1965 (Princess Ida), February 1966 (The Sorcerer), December 1967 (The Pirates of Penzance), January 1969 (Choruses), January 1973 (The Mikado), June 1974 (Macbeth), July 1975 (Utopia Limited), March 1976 (The Grand Duke); Kingsway Hall, London, UK, January 1961 (Cox and Box), November 1982 (Overture di Ballo); Whitfield Street Studios, London, UK, February 1977 (Marmion).