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Gilbert and Sullivan: The Pirates of Penzance; Trial by Jury
Arthur Sullivan, Isidore Godfrey, New Promenade Orchestra
Gilbert and Sullivan: The Pirates of Penzance; Trial by Jury
Genre: Classical


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Of great historical and a little less vocal importance
F. Behrens | Keene, NH USA | 05/07/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)

"After the great electric recordings by the D'Oyly Carte Company of all but three of the Gilbert & Sullivan masterpieces, the advent of LP brought forth on the London label (the Decca overseas) the "Martyn Green" series. Two of them ("Pinafore" and "Mikado") have already been re-released by Naxos, and to that series is now added the double bill of "The Pirates of Penzance" and "Trial By Jury," both recorded in 1949.
This might be called the "lost Pirates," since after Martyn Green redid the role in a very inferior version on the RCA Victor label, the London set just disappeared from the shelves; and rumor had it that Green had bought them all up. This seems unlikely, but he could not stop this reissue and very welcome it is. Green is in top form as Major-General Stanley, Darrell Fancourt (having missed singing the role on the 78 rpm set) enjoys his role, and Ella Halman is a most sympathetic Ruth. My favorite feature of this set is the bottomless basso of Richard Watson as the Police Sergeant, while Isidore Godfrey keeps the tempos brisk, as he does in the companion piece on this set. Alas I cannot recommend the tenor lead, Leonard Osborne, whose pinched nasal sound might have been acceptable on stage but comes over very poorly on recordings. (The exceptions are "Ruddigore" and "Gondoliers," in which he plays a slightly rougher type of character.) His soprano, Muriel Harding, has been described as the best of a bad lot of sopranos during that era, but she is acceptable.The scene between Mabel and the Police, in which Sullivan spoofs churchly choral singing, had to wait for the first stereo version to be heard on recordings; but there is little reason for truncating the Major-General's Act II ballad other than that the D'Oyly Carte was doing so on stage. The "Trial By Jury" does not have Green as the Judge, as one would have expected, but Richard Watson, who does just fine. Again Osborne leaves something to be desired, Harding is more acceptable since her role does not require coloratura, and the rest of the male roles are a bit "pudding voiced," as another critic put it. The sound on this set is a tad fuzzier, I think, than on the other two G&S issues. I would not recommend either of these versions as the first choice, but ardent Savoyards will find a place for them in their collections."
Good historical performances of "Pirates" and "Trial"
L. E. Cantrell | Vancouver, British Columbia Canada | 07/11/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Sources: "The Pirates of Penzance"--Decca studio recording, July 1949. "Trial by Jury"--Decca studio recording, September 1949.

Sound: While these performances were originally issued in Lp format--two Lps for Pirates and one for "Trial", they were recorded on matrices rather than tape. The sound is decent early Lp mono, better than contemporary pop music but not leading edge for classical music of the time. Naxos has done a nice job of cleaning up the background noises and has corrected at least one pitch problem in "Trial".

Text: "Trial by Jury" is both the earliest and the shortest surviving Gilbert and Sullivan score. No significant alterations or omissions have taken place from the first run to the present day. On the other hand, the D'Oyly Carte Company did tend to make a few changes in "The Pirates of Penzance". On this recording, there are two significant omissions. In Act II, a verse of the Major General's song, "Sighing Softly to the River", has been cut, as has the churchly interchange between the Sergeant of Police and his men. Both these omissions reflect the stage practice of the D'Oyly Carte Company at the time of the recording. (With due respect to Mr. Beamer, who wrote the previous review, "Hail Poetry" appears quite plainly in track 16 of Disk 1 of this set.)

Documentation: No libretto. Thumbnail biographies for some of the principal performers. Short plot summaries.

Making judgements about matters of performance is always an idiosyncratic business. On one hand, Mr. Beamer, having seen "a few amateur community productions," judges many of the tempi to be too fast and finds that dramatic pauses have been omitted. On the other, a leading G&S internet fan site criticizes the 1949 "Pirates" for being "stodgy, 4-square and pedantic." As for myself, based on participating in about 400 G&S performances, including three separate productions of "Pirates", I think the tempi on these recordings are generally right and the dramatic pauses, where they occur, pretty much the way Sullivan wrote them. Plainly, too, Mr. Beamer is far more acutely sensitive to errors in pitch than I am.

With regard to the singers, I hold them in substantially higher regard than Mr. Beamer, although I do agree with Mr. Behrens that the soprano, Muriel Harding, does not shine in the coloratura passages of "Pirates". Where Mr. Beamer hears shrillness in the chorus, I hear English vocal training, which produces a characteristic national choral sound quite different from that of North America (or of the choruses of Italy, France, Germany, Russia or Wales, for that matter.)

In summary, I find these to be very good performances--"Trial" being slightly the better of the two--in acceptable mono sound at a very attractive price.

Four stars."