The Best of Gilbert & Sullivan (2008)
Sally Johnson, soprano
Marcus Marriott, musical director
Sony announced this recording with great fanfare and pompous exaggeration:
At the heart of successful opera is the partnership between composer and writer. Think of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe and Lloyd Webber and Rice. But opera can also fall prey to the fads of fashion. No other collaborators have probably suffered more than the English pairing of Gilbert and Sullivan. That's about to change.
Now, in 2008, this duo is about to enjoy an unprecedented revival thanks to a brand new SonyBMG CD by The Gala Ensemble that showcases some of their biggest hits. This will be the first new recording of Gilbert and Sullivan by a major label in twenty-five years.
On 24 November 2008, SonyBMG release 'The Best Of Gilbert And Sullivan By The Gala Ensemble' the debut album from a dynamic theatrical quintet performing music that from the outset has been for the masses. As the most performed musical works in the English language, these are great tunes, with instantly memorable lyrics and melodies, that are not only easily accessible but also satirical and recognised everywhere. There's nothing else like it and it's time to celebrate the best of British comic opera again.
Unfortunately, all the reviews are scathing. Peter Parker wrote:
The awaited CD bearing that title was released yesterday. After all the hype by Sony/BMG what a disappointment. It sounds to me as if it has been done by a bunch of enthusiastic amateurs/teenagers. I have not been able to fathom the orchestra if there was one. It sounds as if it may have been all synths. There is no credit to an orchestra on the CD literature except to S.L.S.O what ever that is. The orchestrations are odd and certainly not Sullivan's moreover the playing is sloppy. (Listen to the Basson twiddle in Three Little Maids.) The voices seem to be behind the orchestra rather than in front and have no prescience whatever. Another oddity is the leaflet which contains all manner of thank yous to friends and relations, mums and dads, all named as people no one will know—something you do expect to find in a professional recording. Not a word about vocal training or experience, but I notice Sandra Dugdale and Donald Maxwell get a mention for tips and advice. Another short CD as it is only 36 minutes long and the title The Best of Gilbert and Sullivan has been used before, I think at least twice.
David Cound added:
I am glad to have my opinion backed up by a competant authority! It was a huge disappointment. As you say, the singing on the whole left a great deal to be desired. I think there were some real instruments in there somewhere - but a great deal was synthesised. There were frequent involuntary (I'm sure unintended) changes of tempo - the conductor seemed frequently to be hurrying the singers along and sometimes had to drag a bit to get back in time with them. Intros were not always at the tempo the singer started at! Also, as you say, a peculiar lack of information in the leaflet.
And lastly, David Eaton:
Can anyone here truly say that recording Sullivan's music and selling it to the public with an orchestra which is merely the product of typing notes into a computer and pressing play is anything but a gross insult to the genre and music in general? Does the core G and S audience care so little about the performance of this music that they are prepared to hand responsibility for interpretation of these pieces over to an automaton? Take the string chords in 'The Sun who's Rays' for example — there is not an orchestra in the land that would be able to play the accompaniment like this, or who would want to, and so it cannot represent the music that Sullivan wrote. This is not how G and S sounds, and that opinion has nothing to do with comparisons with D'OC. This is not an updating of these pieces, it is a bastardisation. This recording deserves outright condemnation by the world of G and S and by musicians in general — support for this disc is support for the end of live G and S as we know it. It sets a precedent that electronic falsifications of this music are acceptable. They are not, and I urge you not to support the view thay they are.