One of the finest I have heard
A most joy-inducing
A winning partnership
A Lohengrin to
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Edward SOLOMON (1855-1895) and F. C. BURNAND (1836-1917) Pickwick (1889) [55:00]
Simon Butteriss (baritone) - Mr Pickwick
Gaynor Keeble (mezzo-soprano) - Mrs Bardell
Toby Stafford-Allen (baritone) - The Baker
Alessandro MacKinnon (treble) - Tommy George GROSSMITH (1847-1912) Cups and Saucers (1876) [18:18]
Simon Butteriss (baritone) - General Deelah
Gaynor Keeble (mezzo-soprano) - Mrs Worcester
Stephen Higgins (Musical director/piano)
rec. 12-13 September 2016, National Opera Studio, Wandsworth, London
Full texts included RETROSPECT OPERA CDRO002[73:31]
‘Burnand and Solomon’ doesn’t trip off the tongue quite as mellifluously or as automatically as Gilbert and Sullivan but this disc tells a tale of their collaboration on Pickwick, a Dramatic Cantata – as was Trial by Jury – that premiered in 1889. Francis Burnand (1836-1917), a habitual employer of the pun, was editor of Punch and had collaborated with Sullivan on Cox and Box and The Contrabandista. He had long theatrical experience and doubtless saw working with Solomon as an opportunity to extend the fame he had won as librettist.
Edward ‘Teddy’ Solomon, a ‘Jewish Don Juan’ according to a contemporary female critic, lived a life of almost irrepressible sexual activity, if his biography is anything to go by. It’s a miracle he ever found time to compose at all. Like another Solomon – not the Biblical one but Solomon Grundy – he lived life at an accelerated pace. He married at eighteen, had a child at nineteen and went through a succession of (five) wives, toured America, churned out operetta after operetta, was called on by D’Oyly Carte to compose for the Savoy, before dying at 39 of, so it’s said, typhoid. Even reading about his life is to court exhaustion.
Pickwick was one in a line of Dickens-inspired musical works. It is largely all-sung and has a relatively smaller quotient of spoken dialogue than Burnand’s other operettas. The original orchestral score is lost but a Boosey piano version was published. There were two editions and of these the first edition, faithful to the original production (the second edition was apparently simplified and reordered) has been followed.
At the keyboard is Stephen Higgins who supports and directs so well the singing company of four. The libretto is droll, witty and pun-laden in places and the music is avuncular, genial and occasionally stirring. It sits nicely in the mould of G&S operettas, though for all his musical diligence Solomon never quite manages to rise to the crest of a truly memorable song. There are songs, duets and trios, and much admirable scene setting and character building. Some of the finest moments reside in moments such as the music of the ‘Pickwickian Symphony’ where the hero’s appearance is accompanied by music of a deliciously pomposo nature. That said, surely it was a theatrical miscalculation for Burnand to have assigned three songs in a row to Pickwick. It tends to impede the forward development of the plot. That said there are delightful things here, such as the patter of The Happy Valley, where Simon Butteriss has a lot of fun with word endings and vowel sounds, the romantic reverie enshrined in Is it a Fairy Vision, sung very well by Gaynor Keeble, as well as the parlando wit throughout. The contribution here of Toby Stafford-Allen as The Baker should on no account be overlooked, nor should the treble Alessandro MacKinnon.
There is a bonus in the form of George Grosssmith’s Cups and Saucers. Before he became an esteemed G&S performer Grossmith toured with the novelist Florence Marryatt performing sketches and recitations, an entertainment called Entre Nous. The finale was a miniature opera, the ‘Satirical Musical Sketch’, called Cups and Saucers and that’s what is performed in this recording, a two-hander for Butteriss and Keeble. With very slightly abridged spoken dialogue this performance preserves the merriment and sentiment of the music, with witty use of pauses, a sentimental farewell song, and some rather Schumannesque piano writing here and there. Despite the large amount of dialogue remaining, which may tire unsympathetic listeners, this is another resonant slice of musical life of the time.
The disc is stylishly presented in a gatefold with a most attractive and informative booklet containing full texts. It’s a pleasure to see so barely known a work as Pickwick promoted with such care and joie de vivre.