WORKS: Trial by Jury; HMS Pinafore; Patience; The Pirates of Penzance; Iolanthe; The Mikado; Ruddigore; The Yeomen of the Guard; The Gondoliers
PERFORMER: Soloists; Glyndebourne Festival Chorus, Pro Arte Orchestra/Malcolm Sargent
CATALOGUE NO: CZS 5 74468 2 ADD/DDD Reissue (1956-71)
As someone brought up in the D’Oyly Carte era when John Reed ruled the patter, it was all too easy to spurn the nobly born recordings of the previous generation. This set proves what a generous gift was Sargent’s Savoy sequence, and it was no chore for me to catch up by listening through, an operetta a day, from start to finish. This golden age runs from The Mikado in 1956 to Ruddigore in 1962, some 36 years after Sargent’s first D’Oyly Carte season. George Baker’s record is even more impressive: he first recorded Ko-Ko in 1917, and his imperious diction in five of the roles remains impeccable, the manner pardonably speech-songy, right up to his last fling in Ruddigore.
The general consistency of casting – Geraint Evans takes over from Baker with aplomb in Mikado, Gondoliers and Yeomen – is for the most part a pleasure. Elsie Morison, soprano lead throughout, uses a rock-solid technique to negotiate many of the more demanding phrases; she is an especially candid Josephine (Pinafore), Patience and Giannetta (The Gondoliers). Just how well off the series was for tenors can be gauged by the best of Stravinsky’s Tom Rakewells, Alexander Young, yielding the plums to an outstanding Glyndebourne Idomeneo, Richard Lewis, whose subtlety is well in line with Sargent’s in Pinafore and Gondoliers (with a superbly stylish conclusion to ‘Take a Pair of Sparkling Eyes’). Redoubtable are the dragon Monica Sinclair of the cutting chest voice and the stalwart Owen Brannigan, reflecting Sargent’s brisker manner in The Gondoliers and his deliberately pompous Mikado. Perhaps the only regular one dreads to meet again is the colourless mezzo Marjorie Thomas. Among the smaller roles, future leads Elizabeth Harwood and Heather Harper step forward from the ranks of the crisp Glyndebourne chorenes.
Orchestral fillers only go to prove how Sullivan’s melodic gift and Mendelssohn-inspired instrumental candour shone more brightly in the operettas, though several of the Tempest dances have a sparkling originality. Of course this is far from the whole story: the musically wonderful Princess Ida, which Sargent later recorded for Decca, is missing, along with The Sorcerer, Utopia Limited and The Grand Duke (gaps also later filled by Decca), and there is no dialogue. But in its polished, Classical approach to G&S’s evergreen topsy-turviness, EMI’s series deserves a special affection.