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Gilbert & Sullivan: H.M.S. Pinafore; The Pirates of Penzance
Arthur Sullivan, Malcolm Sargent, Bertha Lewis
Gilbert & Sullivan: H.M.S. Pinafore; The Pirates of Penzance
Genres: Pop, Soundtracks, Classical, Broadway & Vocalists
 
  •  Track Listings (17) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (27) - Disc #2
  •  Track Listings (40) - Disc #3
  •  Track Listings (13) - Disc #4

Four CD Box Set with Two of the Composing Duo's Most Beloved Operettas.

      
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Synopsis

Album Details
Four CD Box Set with Two of the Composing Duo's Most Beloved Operettas.
 

CD Reviews

Excellent historical Gilbert and Sullivan
L. E. Cantrell | Vancouver, British Columbia Canada | 05/08/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Source: The first electronic recordings of "The Pirates of Penzance" (recorded February-May 1929) and "HMS Pinafore" (recorded February-June 1930). The original issues were on 78s and published in albums of twenty or more sides, each.

Sound: Considering the great age of the performances, the sound is generally amazingly good. No details are provided, but it sounds to me as though a set of near-pristine (with some notable exceptions) disks have been transferred onto CD with little or no re-mastering. The effect is that of listening to the 78s on a top-of-the-line phonograph with an absolutely silent record changing mechanism. There is some low but easy-to-ignore hiss that probably appeared in the original matrices, and moments of overloading on a few of the biggest ensembles. The voices of the soloists are mostly very well captured. The choruses sound fine, if a little distant and slightly compressed. The orchestra is a bit confined by digital era standards, but its sound is nevertheless good and full of detail.

The CD tracks tend to follow the three- to four-minute takes of the original 78s. Reflecting the original sides, there is often a brief roll-off at the end of a number. In the finales, which extended over multiple 78 sides, the CDs contain brief pauses at the record breaks. Original 78s were often played out of sequence by their owners. Noticeably more wear is detectable on popular solo pieces than on the less often played choral sequences.

Documentation: Minimal. No libretto. Cast list. Short plot summaries by act. Track list. Nothing on the performers.

Text: No dialogue has been recorded. In "Pinafore," a short entr'acte, essentially an orchestral reprise of "I'm Called Little Buttercup," starts off the second CD. In "Pirates," the Sergeant's faux-churchly admonition to his men is, as usual, omitted. As the Sergeant, the beloved Leo Sheffield chose to sing, "A policeman's lot is not an 'appy one," and the chorus responded with, "'Nappy one." Since W. S. Gilbert very plainly wrote "A policeman's lot is not a happy one," he'd have launched a blazing thunderbolt along with a deduction from their weekly wages.

Format: Four discs, with two disks per opera, one for each act. Each disk is in its own plastic case and all four cases are boxed together.

These two comic operas were recorded at the transition point between the second and third generation of Savoyards. Some of the old-timers had been directed by W. S. Gilbert, himself. Sir Henry Lytton--imagine, being knighted for doing G&S!--Sir Joseph Porter in "Pinafore," was the chief comedy man of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company. He had joined the D'Oyly Carte chorus prior to the opening of "The Mikado" and had begun taking leads with D'Oyly Carte touring companies in the 1880s. HMV engineers did not care for the way his voice recorded, so he did not perform the Major General in "Pirates." His place was taken in the studio by the articulate George Baker. Lytton's recorded voice sounds fine to me--and almost eerily like that of his D'Oyly Carte successor in the 1960s and 70s, John Reed. Fortunately, Lytton did not suffer from Reed's annoying need to mug in everything.

These performances have the virtues of all D'Oyly Carte Company recordings: excellent, rigidly disciplined choruses and soloists with superb English diction. Alas, many of the soloists suffer from the curse of English vocal training.

George Baker is good, if somewhat generic in his assumption of the Major General in "Pirates" and, unexpectedly, Captain Corcoran in "Pinafore." Being accustomed to Baker-the-elder-statesman of the stereo sets of the 1960s, I found it fascinating to hear how strong he sounded in the 1930s. (Baker was never a member of the D'Oyly Carte Company. He appeared on stage in Gilbert and Sullivan only once, after his retirement, in a benefit performance as the Learned Judge in "Trial by Jury.")

It is given wisdom among many hardcore G&S fans that Derek Oldham was the best tenor who ever recorded a Savoy opera. Don't believe them. Oldham was all right, and better overall than his D'Oyly Carte Company successors of the 1960s and later, but the finest singing actor ever to take the lead tenor parts was Oldham's immediate successor, Leonard Osborn, and the finest singer was probably Richard Lewis, who recorded in Sargent's stereo series. Oldham is passable as Frederic in "Pirates." The part of Ralph Rackstraw in "Pinafore" was assumed by Charles Goulding, a tenor with a sweet sound, but quite lacking in ping, ring or character.

Dorothy Gill, Ruth in "Pirates," and Bertha Lewis, Little Buttercup in "Pinafore," were classic English hooting contraltos. Both give stand-out performances.

The lead soprano in both comic operas was Elsie Griffin, whose rather thick voice was not very well captured on the "Pinafore" recording. Strangely, the contemporary reviewer in British magazine, The Gramophone, singled out her performance in "Pirates" above all the others. Standards in vocal sound, it seems, change over the decades.

The other soloists are very, very British--markedly more so than their counterparts in later years.

Malcolm Sargent leads the orchestra in both recordings, just as he would more than thirty years later, when he labored ponderously under the heavy weight of his knighthood. In 1929 and 1930, he was rhythmically sensitive and did a fine job keeping things moving.

This set presents two G&S comic opera masterpieces at a rock-bottom price in surprisingly good sound. All my nitpicking to the contrary, the performances of the cast are excellent. It is a must-have for a serious lover of G&S. For those who must have DDD sound or suffer the vapors, walk away, this is not for you."