Review of the HMV Acoustical Series
The Gramophone, 1927
The Gramophone — June 1927
Correspondent Robert Morrison sent the following series of reviews that were serialized in three issues of The Gramophone in 1927. The reviews, by one N. M. Cameron, are admirably detailed and perceptive. They cover the acoustical series recorded by HMV from 1917-25, and the one electrical set that had been published to that point, The Mikado (1927).
Although this is a very long web page, I have elected to reproduce the reviews together, so that the reader can have some idea of the original effect. In any event, it's clear that Cameron conceived of his work as a single article (albeit printed in three parts), and the reviews often cross-reference each other. I have added sub-headings to make the internal structure more visually apparent, and there are links from the individual recordings' web pages to the relevant comments by Cameron.
Robert Morrison's Comments
First published in 1923, the State Library of Victoria in Melbourne has bound volumes of The Gramophone going back to June, 1927 [Vol. 5]. Fortuitously, with the release of the newly recorded Electric H.M.V. set of The Mikado that year, reviewer N. M. Cameron took the opportunity to do a retrospective review on all of the Acoustic HMV G&S sets then currently available, beginning in that June issue.
Not only does Cameron cast a fine critical eye over the recordings, indicating where cuts have been made in the songs and accompaniments and taking soloists to task in matters of interpretation and for singing wrong notes(!), but he also provides fascinating insights into the musical aspects of the operas as they were then being staged by the D'Oyly Carte in the 1920s, with the cuts and transpositions of songs and verses that were made in performance at that time (e.g. Lady Blanche's second Act song in Princess Ida — “Come Mighty Must” — had been cut from performance since the first London revivals at the Princes Theatre in 1919-20, even though Bertha Lewis recorded it in the 1924 set of the opera; Rose Maybud and Richard Dauntless's first Act duet from Ruddigore — “The Battle's Roar is Over” — was originally included in the 1920 revival, but was later cut, etc.).
Also of interest are Cameron's occasional comments on the performance styles of fondly-remembered D'Oyly Carte artistes of the past compared with their stage and/or recording successors, (e.g. although impressed by Darrell Fancourt's rendition of “The Mikado's Song,” he doesn't feel that his laugh and gasp quite measures up to that of the earlier Leicester Tunks — sadly unrecorded).
Cameron's hope that the music from Thespis may eventually be recorded may seem a little naïve, but don't forget that at that time Sullivan had been dead for only 27 years, and neither Trial by Jury nor The Sorcerer had been recorded in full; while Utopia, Limited and The Grand Duke would have to wait for another 40 odd years to be recorded. Then, of course, there was the rumour (repeated by both Alan James in Gilbert & Sullivan [Omnibus Press, London, 1989] and Alan Jefferson in The Complete Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Guide [Webb & Bower Ltd., Exeter, 1984]) that a copy of the vocal score of Thespis had been secretly kept in a London bank vault by the music publisher Chappell, until it was accidentally destroyed by fire in 1964!
It is useful to read N. M. Cameron's reviews in conjunction with the the writings of Joe Batten and Fred Gaisberg (who were both pioneers in the British recording industry). Many of Cameron's criticisms relating to the orchestrations of the G&S opera recordings and the departure from the vocal score in relation to musical dynamics such as pianissimo, diminuendo, fortissimo passages, etc. not being followed, can be attributed directly to the limitations of the Acoustic recording technique itself.
A further complication in relation to the technique noted by a number of writers (including Peter Dawson in his memoirs “Fifty Years of Song”), was that when singers were hitting their top notes, they had to remember to take a step back from the recording horn else the resultant increased vibrations impinging on the 'sound-box' diaphragm would sometimes cause the cutting stylus to jump, (or vibrate so much laterally that it would cut a path into the adjoining grooves on the rotating wax record master), thus ruining that session. The singers, therfore, not only had to be conscious of their vocal performance, but also of the mechanics of recording itself. Perhaps the wonder of it is that the Acoustic recording technique could yield records that were of such a high 'artistic' standard at all!
This is really the work of two of us, but my collaborator is too modest to allow his name to appear as it should. However, this allows me to explain that he used to play the leading parts in an extremely good amateur company — good in the absolute sense that is, not merely “good for amateurs” — and so, besides his intimate knowledge of Gilbert and Sullivan, he is able to lend me the benefit of his experience as a performer. This experience covers producing and the playing of practically all the more important male parts, and once, when the contralto was late in arriving, he had started to make up as Katisha! I find his opinion and information absolutely invaluable, so if I succeed in passing them on will readers of THE GRAMOPHONE, please accord him a silent vote of thanks?
We had decided to take the operas in the chronological order of their first production on the stage, listening to them carefully with every care taken to have the right atmosphere — The Sorcerer on tea (but there are not many records of The Sorcerer), The Pirates on sherry (hastily substituted for rum at the last minute), and so on, when all of a sudden H.M.V. started to record them all over again by means of the electric process, beginning with The Mikado. At the moment we feel at a loss, not knowing in the least what is coming next and how soon, but probably our best plan is to stock the cellar against all emergencies and to proceed according to plan until the next set comes out, when we shall take cognizance of it with priority over all other considerations.
It must be unnecessary to give biographical details about either Sullivan or Gilbert. The D.N.B. [Dictionary of National Biography —ed.] gives as much as most people want, while for more detailed biographies Gilbert, Sullivan and D'Oyly Carte, by Cellier and Bridgeman (1914), W. S. Gilbert: His Life and Letters, by Sidney Dark and Rowland Grey (1924), Sir Arthur Sullivan and his Operas, by B. W. Findon (1908), Sir Arthur Sullivan, Life Story, by A. Lawrence (1899), and Arthur Seymour Sullivan, by H. S. Wyndham (1926), in the “Masters of Music” series, may be suggested, but this is by no, means a complete bibliography. The Gilbert and Sullivan Journal, as might be expected, is teeming with a lot of news, and there are also the articles in Grove and in other dictionaries and encyclopaedias, and many books written from either the historical or critical point of view, not to mention reminiscences. A. H. Godwin's Gilbert and Sullivan: — A critical appreciation of the Savoy Operas (1926), summarizes their history and gives many interesting facts, but consists chiefly of discussions of unusual interest to the intimate connoisseurs. It also contains an introduction by G. K. Chesterton and a portrait.
Of texts, the most complete is the volume published by Macmillan last year. It even contains Pooh-Bah's petulant reply to the Mikado's kind inquiry whether they can wait till after luncheon, a line I have found in no other edition, though his echo of Katisha's “Mercy even for Pooh-Bah” is not given. Chappell's separate libretti, sold in the theatre, are good as well as handy. The four volumes of Original Plays by W. S. Gilbert, published by Chatto and Windus, contain a curious text of The Sorcerer; probably this was the original version, which Gilbert altered considerably for the revival in 1884. This edition omits Ko-Ko's “Little List” song. I cannot remember any reference to this being interpolated after the original production, so the inference is that it was not in Gilbert's first draft. This would explain why Ko-Ko, when he actually requires a victim, appears to have forgotten all about his list, and no one reminds him of it.
I commend these two observations to Mr. Godwin: (1) The list was a fraud, or at any rate hypothetical: Ko-Ko had no actual names under his various categories; (2) alternatively, in spite of his list Ko-Ko (according to his own account) was a humane man and supposed his duties would be purely nominal, or (more probably, as we know how corrupt the administration was) having accepted the post in order to save his neck, he utterly neglected his duties with the result that there arrived that letter from the Mikado, of which we were so often reminded during the war by missives similar in both style and substance from such tremendous swells as D.A.A.Q.M.G. and D.A.D.O.S.
Possibly, scholars will some day collate the variae lexiones in Gilbert's Omnia Opera. Sometimes, for instance, the Duke of Plaza-Toro “enjoys” an interment, sometimes he merely “likes” it. I suggest this as a congenial light duty for a Shakespearean scholar during convalescence after influenza.
Of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas only one full score has been published, that of The Mikado, but there also exists that of Liebe an Bord [I know it as Amor am Bord —ed.], the German version of H.M.S. Pinafore. In the case of the remainder only vocal and piano scores have been printed. (See appendix to Findon's Sir Arthur Sullivan and his Operas.)
Owners of player-pianos probably know already what rolls exist of Sullivan's music, but in case they do not, they may be interested to learn that a selected list is given in The “Duo-Art” and “Pianola” Piano Monthly for January, 1927.
Records may be divided into three categories: the complete sets issued by H.M.V., single airs (with or without chorus and the proper orchestral accompaniment), and “selections,” including “vocal gems.” As for cornet solos, accordion duets and similar by-blows, I disinterest myself in them entirely. I am not, however, one of the superior people who sneer at band selections. Even when a complete set is to be had, they may be very desirable for considerations of space or expense, and used to give untold pleasure during the war. (The introduction of the Lewis gun, with its transport, was most welcome.) But they only give us Sullivan at second hand, with in many cases incorrect time and phrasing of the airs. It would seem a better plan to buy the overture, if recorded, of the opera in question, thus obtaining a selection of tunes arranged and orchestrated by the composer himself.
I can only apologize in advance and warn those who expect to be told the best record of something that has been recorded several times that they will be disappointed. The searching of catalogues is a wearisome business. I find my nerves getting affected, so that I start at seeing “Regal Sauce” on a menu! But still more trying is the task of seeking out the less accessible makes of records. I do not, however, wish to grouse about what after all affords most congenial employment, but to point out that although (possessing myself the H.M.V. set) I sally forth and hear alternative records of a particular air, a Zonophone in Brixton, a Regal in Holborn and a Parlophone in Edgware Road, on different makes of machine and not necessarily all on the same day, I feel in the end that it would not be fair to say definitely that any one is the best. Moreover, a purchaser will be considering the price and what is on the other side, and, in any case, individual opinions differ widely. I shall be able to quote an apt case in point later on. But in general my conclusion is that it is seldom, if ever, that one can buy a better rendering than that in the complete set; on the other hand, I have not heard any record that I could not endure to have in my own collection. In fact, I have had some pleasant surprises at the quality of comparatively cheap records that must have been made (the masters that is; the pressings are presumably recent) a good many years ago, when played on a good machine. So I have done my best to mention all the recordings I can discover, which I honestly think is the most useful thing I can do.
Apart from selections, most lists only contain one or two airs, if any, from the operas, but the Columbia catalogue has quite a number, and Velvet Face has a whole page. Vocalion has started and will continue a series, all recorded by the Marconi Company's Electrical Process except X-9836 and X-98174 (The Gondoliers and Iolanthe respectively). And now I see that Parlophone have begun a similar series. All makers who issue alternative recordings have to steer very warily to escape proceedings under the Copyright Acts. They also, it will be noticed, confine themselves almost entirely to ten-inch records, which is a handicap.
N.B.—When the reverse of a record bears an extract from a different opera a reference is given, but no reference is given when both sides are from the same opera, as the other side is mentioned in the same paragraph, or when the other item recorded is not one of Sullivan's compositions. By the way, do we follow numismatists and say “obverse” and “reverse,” or bibliographers with “recto” and ”verso,” or just say plain “front” and “back”? Perhaps the Editor will follow up his fulmination against “releases” with an utterance on this point.
Produced at the Gaiety Theatre, December 23rd, 1871, under the management of J. Hollingshead. It was the first Gilbert and Sullivan opera. It might seem superfluous to mention it, as the name appears in no catalogue, but actually it can claim the original ownership of the chorus Climbing over Rocky Mountains, which was afterwards transplanted to The Pirates. No score of Thespis has ever been published but Sullivan has been suspected of having “lifted” more than this from it. The libretto is in the collected edition of Gilbert's plays published by Chatto and Windus. If Sullivan's music is only half as delightful as that he wrote for Cox and Box five years earlier, surely it would be worth while recording some of it.
Trial By Jury
Produced at the Royalty Theatre, March 25th, 1875, under D'Oyly Carte's management. “The Judge's Song” was recorded on Col. 371, sung by Walter Passmore, with chorus. It is really excellent, but is no longer in the catalogue. There was once an H.M.V. record of it — I forget the singer — but it has also been withdrawn. I strongly advise people to go and hear what records by Passmore remain on sale. I had them all once, but unfortunately disposed of some, thinking it inconvenient to have extra records when I acquired the complete sets. Now I have hastily repurchased such as are available. A complete recording of this would be especially welcome and would have the advantage, there being no dialogue, of giving us the entire work. There is a rumour that it has been made, but at the moment only selections are obtainable, by H.M.V. (12 in. one side — Sorcerer on reverse), and by Vocalion and Zonophone (12 in., two sides in each case).
[Note: He was writing at a time when no complete recording of Trial By Jury had been published yet. He didn't have to wait long, as the HMV electrical recording with a D'Oyly Carte cast came out later that year. —ed.]
Produced at the 0pera Comique on November 17th, 1877. I have two records of “My Name is John Wellington Wells,” by Workman on Odeon 0676, and by Passmore on Col. 1866. (See Gondoliers and Pirates respectively for the other sides.) This must be the only instance, previous to the issue of records by Lytton, of two alternative records of the part. Unfortunately, Workman makes two or three verbal slips and at one point omits a line. Passmore is uninspired, and sings “posthumous” and “beology,” but is otherwise blameless. The symphony as played for this record is correct. “The Vicar's Song” deserves to be considered a test song in Gilbert and Sullivan; on the face of it, it appears simple, but actually it is very difficult to sing well. Ranalow's record, which I found to my surprise in the Winner catalogue, 2414, is not good. Charles Mott (H.M.V. E. 71, wrongly labelled “The Curate's Song”) takes some liberties with the melody, and misses some points in the phrasing, but his breath-control is extremely good. Rutland Barrington tells in his reminiscences how a critic wrote, “Barrington is perfectly wonderful. He always manages to sing about one-sixteenth of a tone flat; it's so like a vicar.” An H.M.V. record of one of Alexis's rather dull ballads is now withdrawn, as also a double-sided Coldstream Guards selection, but there remains a selection on the reverse of Trial by Jury, and Columbia and Vocalion have double-sided selections.
It is improbable that The Sorcerer is anyone's favourite, yet it should certainly have a good sale if recorded in full. Though the action moves a little stiffly — which is surprising after the spontaneity of Trial by Jury, but the authors seem to have considered the advance to two acts a very solemn proceeding — there are some beautiful numbers, for example the Pointdextre-Sangazure duet and the quintet in Act II, and one notices the germ of many things afterwards so successfully developed.
The remaining Gilbert and Sullivan operas, except Utopia, Limited and The Grand Duke, have been recorded in full by H.M.V., first The Mikado (published in March, 1918), then The Gondoliers, The Yeomen of the Guard, The Pirates of Penzance, Patience, Iolanthe, H.M.S. Pinafore, Ruddigore and Princess Ida, in that order. The later issues, as one would expect, gained by improved processes of manufacture, although The Mikado was better than its two immediate successors. All were done before the electric process came into use. There was another gain, in interpretation, as members of the actual D'Oyly Carte Company were gradually introduced. All are stated to have been recorded under the direction of Mr. Rupert D'Oyly Carte. Mr. Arthur Wood conducted The Mikado and The Gondoliers, and I believe I am right in saying Mr. G. W. Byng has conducted the rest, although no conductor's name is given in the case of H.M.S. Pinafore and those following.
However many times one has seen the operas one does not cease to go because they have been recorded. But with a gramophone it is possible to follow the libretto and so discover many flashes of Gilbert's wit that do not get across the footlights; also to hear the lovely overtures in peace and quiet, and much incidental music — e.g., that for any of Lytton's entrances that is drowned by applause. It is a notorious vice of the British public to talk not only during overtures but even during performances, and also, a maddening habit, to applaud before a song or an act is finished, although one would have thought the enthusiastic worshippers of Gilbert and Sullivan would have had better taste. I often wonder how many of the audience realize that there is a chorus being sung at the entrance of Jack Point and Elsie. Another obvious advantage of gramophone records is that they allow one to have encores ad lib. or not at all, exactly as one pleases, or even to omit something, though that may seem unthinkable!
Discussion of the 1922 HMV Recording.
Produced at the Opera Comique. May 25th, 1878.
This is a good all-round recording, with a large proportion of D'Oyly Carte artists in the cast. Two good tenors share the part of Ralph Rackstraw. The scene at his first entrance, “The Nightingale,” etc., is perhaps the best record in the set, soloist, orchestra and chorus all being very good. In the duet “Refrain, audacious tar” the solos are good but the ensemble bad. Another passage where the tenor is to blame is in the finale, Act I, where he overburdens the trio. Violet Essex uses her voice with great discretion, and sings “The hours creep on apace” brilliantly. Sydney Granville is hardly so good as one would expect of a real Savoyard. In the Captain's song he is perhaps let down by the mechanical chorus, but all through he is hardly more than adequate. However, he sings the “Englishman” song well; one takes the singer to be Granville from the resemblance of the voice as it comes out, but the label only gives three men's names for four parts in this scene, Ralph, Captain, Deadeye and Boatswain. Frederick Hobbs, whose name appears here only, is presumably Deadeye. One expects Bertha Lewis and Darrell Fancourt to be first rate, and Ranalow, whom one would like to see in a Gilbert and Sullivan part, is a success as the First Lord. The trio “Never mind the why and wherefore” is capitally sung, and is followed by an excellent rendering of the duet “Kind Captain, I've important information.” The chorus is mechanical at times but sings well, especially in the difficult “Gaily tripping,” and in the scenes “This very night” and “Carefully on tip-toe stealing.” There is a most regrettable cut, namely, the second verse of that delightful glee “A British tar is a soaring soul,” in which Halland, the bass, comes out very well. There is also a small cut at the end of “Things are seldom what they seem.” On the other hand, the B flat in “I have dared to love your matchless girl” is not in the score, which has G natural. The orchestra plays and records well throughout, the instrumental reproduction having improved considerably by the time this set was issued.
There is only one alternative recording, “Little Buttercup,” not very well sung by Carrie Herwin, on Col. 3150. (See Mikado for reverse.) There were a large number of older H.M.V. records all withdrawn on the publication of the complete set, and I once had, but parted with, a record of Passmore singing “When I was a lad,” of which I am now regretting the loss. Columbia has a double-sided 12 in. orchestral selection and also a single-sided 12 in. with vocal gems on the back. Of band selections there are 12 in. double-sided by H.M.V. and Parlo., 12 in. one side (The Pirates on reverse) by Vocalion, 10 in. double-sided by Aco, Beltona, Columbia, Duophone, Regal and Winner, and 10 in. one side (The Pirates on reverse) by Zonophone.
The Pirates of Penzance
Discussion of the 1920 HMV Recording.
Produced at the Opera Comique, April 3rd, 1880. This was the fourth to be recorded in full. Derek Oldham had been brought in for The Yeomen, issued immediately before this, but the Company did not yet go any further towards employing the actual performers. The overture is complete and well played, but on the next record we find a deplorable cut, the second verse of the Pirate King's song. There was an old record, also H.M.V., with the opening chorus and as much of this song. The girls' chorus, “lifted” as already described from Thespis, is very well recorded, except that Edith is just a little off her note and the chorus find the top notes trying. Oldham sings “This evening I renounce my wild profession” jerkily in dotted quavers and semi-quavers, whereas it is written smoothly in quavers. Someone comes in too soon with “'Tis Mabel.” Violet Essex in “Poor wandering one” takes liberties with the time where no liberties are or should be allowed. They might be allowed in parts of a song which is a “take off” of grand opera coloratura, but she takes them in the other parts. The following chorus, “How beautifully blue the sky,” etc., one of Sullivan's beloved double choruses, was a particular favourite of his, and is excellently sung and recorded, but the subsequent ensemble, “Here's a first-rate opportunity,” is rather slow. I have always thought Baker's singing of the Major-General's song[*] his best effort. It ought, however, to have been accompanied with a full orchestra: one should hear the jingle and trotting of cavalry in the last verse, “For my military knowledge,” etc. From there to the end of the Act the only points to notice are that the chorus is not large enough for “Hail, Poetry,” and that Radford takes a middle instead of a low C at “elect you.”
[*](In The Life of Lord Wolseley, by Sir F. Maurice and Sir G. Arthur, it is stated , “Gilbert . . . poked fun at his attainments, and any doubt as to the amiable satirist's target was removed on the first night, when Mr. George Grossmith appeared ... in a make-up instantly recognized.”)
The lovely introduction to Act II is all included. In the opening chorus the altos are slow in coming in; otherwise it is very nicely done. “When the foeman bares his steel” is good except for insufficient material, the girls' chorus lines appear to have been scamped in the ensemble, and the symphony is cut short at the beginning and omitted at the end. There was an old H.M.V. record of this with the correct symphonies, but omitting from Mabel's solo to the end of the Sergeant's; it also scamped the girls' chorus, the men overpowering them. There is more cutting of symphonies in the case of the “Paradox Trio,” and the King hurries his chant “For some ridiculous reason,” but the record is otherwise excellent. So is the very difficult “Away, away.” “Ah, leave me not” is perhaps the most beautiful piece in the opera. The singers, however, do not quite give the idea of deep and genuine true love. No doubt we are asking a lot, but it ought to be done perfectly. A minor point, Oldham's occasional indulgence in falsetto, occurs with the last top G on “loves.” But the ensemble “Oh, here is love” is excellent. Dawson is again good with “When a felon's not engaged in his employment,” and the alternative record by Walter Passmore can be recommended too. In the latter the bassoon comes out splendidly, and Passmore is very funny. “With cat-like tread” might be better. The orchestra should accompany piano with fortissimo at the stamps of the pirates. “Come friends” should be pp by the basses (police) and p by the pirates; as it is, when the latter should sing ff in the last nine bars, they cannot make the contrast. This section is written in strong light and shade, but here is sung in twilight throughout. Again, the chorus has no light and shade during “Softly sighing”; but the soloist is excellent.
It is really a very good set, with these faults here and there in details, which I think it is worth while pointing out. It is consistently well recorded, a distinct improvement on its predecessor.
The only alternative records I have discovered that are still extant are:—
When a felon's not engaged in his employment. Walter Passmore and chorus. (Omitted from index of Columbia catalogue. (See Sorcerer for reverse.) Col. 1866. Ditto, Stanley Kirkby and chorus, V.F.1066. (See Iolanthe for reverse.)
Stay, Frederick [sic], stay. Eleanor Jones-Hudson and Ernest Pike, Zono. 1025. (See Iolanthe for reverse.)
With cat-like tread. Stanley Kirkby and chorus,, V.F. 1065. (See Yeomen for reverse.)
Selections. 12 in. d.s.-Col. (orchestral); 12 in. s.s.-Col. (orchestral, with “vocal gems” on reverse); Voc. (H.M.S. Pinafore on reverse), Zono. (Iolanthe on reverse); 10 in. d.s.-Aco, Regal, Winner, Parlo., Beltona, Col.; 10 in. s.s.-Zono. (H.M.S. Pinafore on reverse), Imperial (orchestral, with Gondoliers on reverse).
Discussion Primarily of the 1926 HMV Recording
With Initial Discussion of the 1917 HMV Recording.
Produced at the Savoy, March 14th, 1885. In the old set (H.M.V., D.2 - D.12) the overture, especially the second half, was the pick of the whole bunch, and Radford the pick of the artists. The tenor and soprano both seem a little flat in their top notes, and the tenor further lacks the sense of the opera which Oldham has. The second verse of Pish-Tush's song “Our great Mikado” was cut, and I am glad to find it restored in the new set, and there were a few minor ones as well.
The new set has every advantage, not only improved recording, but also the actual singers that we know in the theatre, available to no other recording company. There are, however, some small faults. Oldham in “A Wandering Minstrel I” is excellent and sympathetic, but uses falsetto at the end which should be unnecessary for so good a singer. Sheffield and Fancourt are neither of them vocally so good as Radford, but are first-rate nevertheless. Fancourt in the Mikado's song “fair gives one the creeps,” even though he cannot make such an excruciating “gulch” as Leicester Tunks used to do. Ko-Ko is bound to lose most through being invisible, and Lytton seems to feel this. At any rate, he is inclined to be mechanical, delightful though he always is, even at a discount. As for the women, whereas Violet Essex sings “The Sun whose rays” with dramatic effect but flat, Elsie Griffin sings it blamelessly but with no dramatic effect at all. Bertha Lewis is first-rate, as one feels sure before coming to her. “Three little maids” is capitally sung and the Madrigal is heavenly, especially the piano, but the whole performance is extraordinarily good and sparkling, one good thing after another, in fact — with one serious blemish, the overbearing orchestra already referred to. There are certain variations from the original score, but in accordance with invariable stage practice; for instance, “So please you, Sir” as originally written, included Pish-Tush as well as Pooh-Bah and the three Little Maids. In the finale a few bits of accompaniment are cut out to save time, but every word of the libretto is there apart from the dialogue.
Alternative renderings. These are numerous. Even if the Editor were willing to allow space, which I doubt, it would be hopeless to attempt giving notes on them all. It must be admitted that in recording Gilbert and Sullivan, H.M.V. has the big battalions, the big guns and the big noise. It is only possible for other makes to attract for reasons of cheapness or convenience. Many of the extracts in the following list are cut or are sung without chorus. A name in brackets after the number of a record refers to an extract from a different opera on the back.
A Wandering Minstrel I. Cavan O'Connor and chorus, Voc. X 9962; Harold Wilde, Zono. 891 (Yeomen); Eric Courtland, Col. 3363; anon. with chorus, V.F. 1002.
Our Great Mikado. V.F. 1003.
Behold the Lord High Executioner; Taken from the County jail. Harold Williams and chorus, Col. 3150 (H.M.S. Pinafore); John Thorne and chorus, Voc. X 9962.
Were you not to Ko-Ko plighted? Wilfrid Virgo and Elda May, Winner 2437.
Braid the raven Hair. Anne Skidmore and chorus, Voc. X 996W.
The Sun whose rays. Violet Essex, Col. 3396; die Sonne lacht, Claire Dux, Polydor 72889 (not obtainable in Great Britain).
Brightly dawns our wedding day. Winner 2436; Voc. X 9978; Parlo. E.5783.
Here's a how-de-do. Passmore, Hilda Francis, Edward James, Col. 387; Savoy Singers, Y.F. 1003.
Miya-sama; From every kind of man. V.F. 1000.
A more humane Mikado. Harold Williams, Col. 3363; anon., with chorus, V.F. 1002.
The criminal cried. Passmore, Carrie Herwin, Robert Howe, with chorus, Col. 387; Savoy Singers V.F. 1004.
See how the fates. Savoy Singers, V.F. 1001 (Haddon Hall).
The flowers that bloom in the spring. Passmore and an unnamed tenor, with chorus, Col. 1818 (Gondoliers); Harold Williams (singing both verses) Col. 3327; Wilfrid Virgo and Robert Carr, with chorus, Winner 2436; O'Connor and Thorne with trio, Voc. X 9978.
Alone and yet alive. Marie Tillotson, Regal 6288; Carrie Herwin, Col. 3396.
Tit-willow. Robert Lett, Regal 6288; Stanley Kirkby, V.F. 1000; Harold Williams, Col. 3327; John Thorne, Voc. X 9979.
There is beauty in the bellow of the blast. Robert Carr and Amy Augarde, Winner 2437.
Finale, Act II, For he's gone and married Yum-Yum. Voc. X 9979.
Selections. 12 in. d.s., orchestral — Zono., Col., Parlo. 12 in. d.s., band — Voc., Regal, V.F., Parlo., H.M.V., Col. 12 in. s.s., orchestral-Col. (“vocal gems” on reverse). 10 in. d.s., band-Aco, Winner (four sides), Parlo. (four sides), Duophone, Beltona, H.M.V. (three sides), Col 10 in. s.s.. band — Regal, Imperial (Patience on reverse).
N. M. CAMERON
SAVOY OPERA RECORDS
By N. M. CAMERON
[THE GRAMOPHONE, August 1927, (Vol. V), pgs. 97-99.]
(Continued from June, p. 14)
Discussion of the 1921 HMV Recording.
Produced at the Opera Comique on April 23rd, 1881, and transferred to the Savoy on October 10th of the same year. It was recorded in full after The Pirates and before Iolanthe. No Savoyards were in the cast; Derek Oldham had been in The Yeomen and The Pirates but was absent here, returning for subsequent recordings.
The Overture occupies one side only of the first record; all the airs are played, but repetitions are cut. The playing is nice but quiet, by an evidently incomplete orchestra. The opening chorus “Twenty love-sick maidens we” is quite well sung, except that it becomes a little careless and uneven after the solos. Next we have Patience herself. Sopranos, at any rate in those days, were always an anxiety on the gramophone, and Sullivan used to give them some difficult tasks, of which this part certainly contains several. “I cannot tell what this love may be” is well and very prettily sung, but with no soul or humour such as Isabel Jay used to put into it. The exigencies of recording deprive us of the contrast between the plaintive strains of the love-sick maidens' chorus, dying away as they go, and the downright vigour of the march to which the Dragoons enter, led obviously by the Quartermaster. “If you want a receipt” is very good; Peter Dawson and the chorus are to be congratulated. The symphony is cut before “In a doleful train” and the girls are too fast, but the men are very good and distinct in a difficult bit. The double chorus is good. Peter Dawson does not sing “When I first put this uniform on” nearly so well as the Colonel's first song. The recitative “Am I alone” fills the remainder of the record, and “If you're anxious for to shine” comes on the next. George Baker misses all the points in the recitative; he sings the song well, but as a concert singer, not a stage artist, missing various points, especially in the last verse. On Col. 2534 one can get the recitative and the song with the middle verse cut; this is one of Walter Passmore's, and is very good. There was evidently not room for the symphony at the end of “Long years ago,” which is followed on the same side by “Prithee, pretty maiden.” Both duets are excellent. One would expect pains to be taken to make a good record of the justly popular “Prithee, pretty maiden,” but it is highly satisfactory to have a good one of the other, which is not only charming but unique of its kind, being Sullivan's only duet for two girls. In “Let the merry cymbals sound” the balance between chorus and orchestra is very well kept in recording. “Stay, we implore you, etc.,” is good, though the girls are not so good as the men. The sextet “I hear the soft note” is beautifully sung with light and shade. The symphony is cut at the end of the finale.
“Silvered is the raven hair” is generally considered one of Gilbert's worst lapses from good taste, largely redeemed or concealed by Sullivan's beautiful setting which turns satire into pathos. Edna Thorton's fine voice is well reproduced; the only criticism to be made is that she finishes both verses the same way and also takes liberties in the second verse. “Turn, oh turn in this direction,” a beautiful chorus well sung, immediately precedes “The Magnet and the Churn.” For some unknown reason many airs from Gilbert and Sullivan that were bound to have a ready sale have always been ignored by the recording companies, and there were few I had wanted more than this. It is well recorded, but here again we have the complaint so frequently made already and so frequently to be repeated: Ranalow has a charming voice but is not a Savoyard. Incidentally, there is no direction in the score for Grosvenor to join in the last chorus. Similarly “Love is a plaintive song” is well sung by Violet Essex — but not by Patience. The symphony is cut at the end of this, also at the beginning, between the verses, and at the end of “So go to him and say to him,” which gets a milk-and-water rendering and one mistake in words, George Baker singing “Booh to you” instead of the ironical compliment “Hey to you.” “It's clear that mediaeval art” is accurate, which is just what is wanted, as one cannot see but can imagine the three converts, and “If Saphir I choose to marry” is as good as one could wish. There is no differentiation here between Bunthorne and Grosvenor in their duet When I go out of door. There exists an alternative, by Walter Passmore and Robert Howe on the other side of Col. 2534; they take it rather slowly, and their rendering is interesting without being particularly good.
The whole set suffers from the singers not being Savoyards. It is well sung throughout but seldom with special distinction. There are no alternative records except the one already mentioned. Columbia have a 12 in. d.s. orchestral selection and also a single side with The Gondoliers on the reverse, and a 10 in. d.s. by a band. Other band selections are: 12 in. d.s. H.M.V. and V.F.; 12 in. s.s. Voc. (Iolanthe on reverse); 10 in. d.s. Beltona, Regal, Imperial and Winner.
Discussion of the 1922 HMV Recording.
Produced at the Savoy, November 25th, 1882. The Overture, one of Sullivan's very best, is badly cut. It is really long enough to cover both sides of the record. Nor does there seem to be a full orchestra present. The opening chorus, however, is nice, both chorus and soloists. The scene with Iolanthe follows. Here the Queen is sometimes not quite in the middle of her note, the alto chorus is weak, especially on “pardoned,” and the orchestra is used merely as an accompaniment, not as a most important integral part of the opera as the composer intended. The chorus is absent from Strephon's “Good morrow, good mother,” though present in “Fare thee well, attractive stranger,” where both soloist and chorus do well, and there is no duet at the end of Phyllis's “Good morrow, good lover.” Half of the beautiful symphony before “None shall part us” is cut, and one of the loveliest duets in all the operas is spoilt by haste. The version by Noel Eadie and Cavan O'Connor, though not perfect, is at any rate complete, and is neither scamped or hurried. We know that the “Chorus of Peers” is sung by seven men; this fact is betrayed by their names being given. It is not at all bad, however, but there is not enough brass in the orchestra. Half the symphony is cut. There was an old H.M.V. record of this, but I never heard it. The Lord Chancellor sings correctly though without expression, but Derek Oldham as Lord Tolloller is perfect when he comes in with “Of all the young ladies I know.” He sings, or was compelled to sing, “Spurn not the nobly born” much too fast; it is marked andante. “'Neath this blow, etc., is sung by men who know the music thoroughly. In “When I went to the bar” we get a very good performance from George Baker, who has to sing in 6-8 time against 2-4. The same may be said of Buckley. Voc. X.9945 gives us a very useful pair. “When darkly looms the day” is shorn of eight bars of symphony and the chorus is cut, but otherwise the quartet is good. The music of the Lord Chancellor's entrance is omitted, and his enquiry “What means this mirth unseemly” is pointless, as the recorded mirth had not been at all unseemly. “For riches and rank” is very well given, though with several small cuts. “To say she is his mother” ought, strictly speaking, to begin in a whisper, but the accelerando is worked up very well. “Go away madam,” etc., is very good, especially the Queen and the men's chorus. The speech “Every bill and every measure” can hardly be called a successful piece of recording, but subsequently the whole chorus is very good, especially the men. In fact the peers' chorus is excellent all through the finale, but unfortunately is often cut. The symphony at the end is given, including the two characteristic semi-quavers.
A single side contains the “Sentry's song” and “Strephon's a Member of Parliament,” but omits the introduction to Act II and the symphony before the second item. The “Sentry's song” is quite well sung by Radford, but the other is perfunctory. “When Britain really ruled the waves” is sung by Peter Dawson, not by Darrell Fancourt, with whom he shares the part of the Earl of Mountararat. He records well, but his rendering is unenlightened. The top E on “glorious” at the end of the third verse is usually sung on the stage but is not in the score, nor is the rallentando at the end of the solo of the third verse, “In vain to us you plead” is very pretty, the accompaniment coming out well. “Oh, foolish fay” should be andante, but is taken too fast; much expression is thus lost, and there is no pathos. The symphony is cut at the end. “In friendship's name” is unsatisfactory, the worst sung of all the numbers. There was an old H.M.V. record of this which used to give me pleasure, but unfortunately I no longer have it for comparison. The “Dream Song” is not very successful and the accompaniment suffers from lack of instruments. Passmore is infinitely better, and so is his orchestra, though not all the effects are there. “If you go in” is excellent, sung by two Savoyards, Fancourt and Oldham, and George Baker, whose fine voice is an asset. They make one mistake: after the Lord Chancellor's verse, “Nothing venture” the first time should be sung pianissimo. “If we're weak enough to tarry” is good, too, and although both of these are on the same side, there are no cuts. “My Lord, a suppliant” is hurried and there are some small cuts, but Nellie Walker sings with feeling. There remains only the brief finale.
The men's chorus is first-rate throughout and the best of the bunch, while the alto chorus is the worst. The directors have been at fault in cutting and spoiling “None shall part us,” hurrying “Spurn not the nobly born” and “Oh, foolish fay,” in which it is, for instance, impossible to make it clear that “resemble I the amorous dove?” is a question, and cutting various odd pieces of chorus and symphony, with one especial major crime — the mutilation of the overture.
None shall part us: Mme. Jones-Hudson and Peter Dawson, Zono. 1025 (See Pirates for reverse); Noel Eadie and Cavan O'Connor, Voc. X.9945.
When I went to the Bar: Stanley Kirkby, V.F. 1066; John Buckley, Voc. X.9945.
Sentry's Song: Howett Worster, Voc. X.9874; Norman Williams, V.F. 1080; Robert Howe, Parlo. E.10093; Harry Dearth, H.M.V. D.215.
When Britain really ruled the waves: Howett Worster, Voc. X.9874; Norman Williams, V.F. 1080.
Oh, foolish fay: Annie Coxon, Voc. X.9946.
Dream Song: Walter Passmore, Col. 354 (See Yeoman for reverse). Now withdrawn.
If you go in: O'Connor, Thorne and Buckley, Voc. X.9946 (labelled He who shines).
Selections. — Orchestra: 12 in. d.s., Col., V.F. Band: 12 in. d.s., Parlo; 12 in. s.s., Voc., Zono. (Pirates on reverse); 12 in. d.s., Aco, Winner, Beltona, Col. “Vocal Gems” — 12 in. d.s., Zono.
Cameron's Review of the 1927 Recording
Discussion of the 1924 HMV Recording.
Produced at the Savoy, January 5th, 1884. It is curious how people differ in their preferences and opinions. The Pirates, for instance, I have known described by one person as the weakest of the series and by another as his favourite. I cannot say myself which is my favourite, but I have always been especially fond of Princess Ida, and as there was not a single extract from it recorded, I had looked forward eagerly as well as anxiously to its publication. The evening on which we listened to this set was, I think, the one I enjoyed most of all. Besides my collaborator, who had played Cyril, we also had present his Hilarion; what these two did not know of the opera and all points and details pertinent to its performance did not amount to much.
The “Introduction” is complete, but whether it is the orchestra or the recording that is at fault, this is not a satisfactory record. In any case the “Introduction” is a disappointing piece of work, which is surprising when the opera contains so many lovely airs. Of the other side, the “Opening Chorus” and “Now hearken to my strict command,” there is nothing particular to say, except that the chorus is not nearly heavy enough; it sounds like a quartet. “Ida was a twelve-month old” is a terrible song to sing. (My informant ought to know!) Derek Oldham gives us here a very good rendering even though he does not sing it quite so well as he did at the Princes. In “We are warriors three,” soloist and trio, Darrell Fancourt, Leonard Hubbard and Edward Halland, are very good; again the chorus has not enough body. It was a great pleasure to find Lytton recording a Gilbert and Sullivan part, and he is very good indeed in “If you give me your attention.” The exquisite trio “Expressive glances” is charmingly sung, with the chorus good, though Cyril is a trifle hard. But Florian shows excellent taste and restraint. The only complaint against the remainder of this concluding portion of Act I is that Sheffield takes liberties with the time of “For a month to dwell.”
The Opening chorus of Act II, “Towards the Empyrean heights,” is very charming, though the girls are weak in the first chorus. They are, however, stronger in the last. “Mighty maiden” is lamentably weak, the alto lead almost inaudible; it sounds as if only four girls were singing. There are one or two inaccuracies, too. Winifred Lawson is very good in the Princess's air “Oh goddess wise.” By some criminal act of pruning, we were deprived, at the first Princes season and subsequently, of Lady Blanche's exposition of her philosophy, “Come mighty must.” Fortunately it is restored here, a fine record. Next, three men's trios in quick succession. “Gently, gently” and “They intend to send a wire to the moon” are on one side; Cyril is certainly not the equal of Hilarion, but both numbers are very nice, with the orchestra good. “I am a maiden cold and stately” is very good, too, though all the men pay scant attention to a dotted note. This trio surely has engaging qualities comparable to the trio in Iolanthe, yet no company had hitherto taken any notice of it for recording purposes. “The world is but a broken toy” lacks a few bars of its symphony at the end. It is exquisitely rendered, though not perfect. Cyril uses falsetto at the beginning and is not sufficiently sympathetic in the trio immediately after Florian's lead “unreal its loveliest hue.” “A lady fair, of lineage high” is a delightful song with a jolly accompaniment, very well sung, and we have nothing but praise for “The woman of the wisest wit” and “Now, wouldn't you like to rule the roast?” In “Merrily ring the luncheon bell” the girls are very weak (doubtless cowed by Lady Blanche) but the soloists are good and the orchestra especially so. “Would you know the kind of maid” deserves high praise; Leo Darnton rises to the occasion in this song. Here again the companies have shown a lack of enterprise, in the case of a song that, having no chorus, should be a welcome gift to them. The finale of “Oh! Joy, our chief is saved” is well done, but the second verse of Hilarion's solo is cut as at the Princes. In the ensemble following “Madam, without the castle walls” the men are good but the girls are too weak to keep the balance. Another fault is that Sheffield again takes liberties with the time. The three brothers are perfectly delightful. The Finale is well sung, but as before there are too few singers.
Act III begins with a chorus “Death to the invader, to which are restored some portions that I have never heard, even in performances previous to the season at the Princes at which so much mutilation took place. The alteration in the order of the numbers in this act was, I believe, sanctioned by Gilbert, and is accepted on the stage now. Lytton again is splendid, and Winifred Lawson's singing of “I built upon a rock is very good. The four-part men's chorus, “When anger spreads his wing,” and “This helmet, I suppose,” are first-rate, after which there is only the finale.
Taken all round the performance is very good, largely because this opera was the last recorded and because it had a complete D'Oyly Carte cast. One serious weakness, however, has been mentioned more than once, the girls' chorus. Of the principals, Sheffield seems bored with his part, and Leo Darnton is splendid in one song but somehow does not please one in the remainder of Cyril's part. The tenors are cast here as at the Princes in 1921, a great improvement on the former practice, which was to allot Cyril to the chief tenor and Hilarion to one of the type that soon drifted into what one D'Oyly Carte manager used to call the refugium peccatorum, i.e., grand opera. Lytton and the rest, both men and women, are all excellent.
There exist the following Selections: Orchestra, 12 in. d.s., H.M.V. (on back of The Gondoliers overture). Band, 12 in. d.s., Voc., H.M.V.; 10 in. d.s., Aco, Winner, Beltona, Columbia.
N. M. CAMERON
SAVOY OPERA RECORDS
By N. M. CAMERON
[THE GRAMOPHONE, November 1927, (Vol. V), pgs. 241-244.]
(Continued from August, p. 99)
Discussion of the 1924 HMV Recording.
Produced at the Savoy, January 22nd, 1887. Those of us who had been accustomed to seeing the D'Oyly Carte Company at Hammersmith or Kennington, or in the provinces, used to be amused at the newspapers' descriptions of how this or that opera had now been “revived at the Prince's,” and at the grave consideration of our old friends Lytton and the rest as if they were interpreting their parts for the first time. In the case of Ruddigore, however, “revived” is the correct word, as it had not been performed by professionals for thirty years. A great deal too much has been written on whether it was a failure, and if so, why; this is not the place for such a discussion.
At the revival several numbers were omitted or curtailed, for which proceeding I believe I am correct in saying Mr. Geoffrey Toye was responsible. And, if I remember rightly, he was stated to have arranged a new overture, which is presumably the one recorded here. At any rate it is not Sullivan's. Of what is left of the “Opening Chorus,” Zorah's solo and the intermediate choruses being cut, there is nothing to say. Bertha Lewis's singing of “Sir Rupert Murgatroyd” is first-rate, and Elsie Griffin's of “If somebody there chanced to be” excellent and with point. Next comes the duet “I know a youth,” sung by Elsie Griffin and George Baker, who are very good, both of them. The chorus “From the briny sea” is well done, and Derek Oldham is very good with Richard's ballad. Luckily, many of us saw and can imagine his capital hornpipe, which deserved Robin's testimonial. Its music is rightly given here. It would he very difficult to make a good record of “My boy, you may take it from me.” This is at least distinct. The back-chat was not authorised by Gilbert, and what is put in here is poor compared with what has crept in on the stage. The duet, “The battle's roar is over,” was, I believe, retained at the revival, but soon dropped, which is a great pity. Unfortunately we are not consoled by means of the gramophone, as the record is disappointing, particularly of Richard, who seems to he straining his high notes, a surprising fault in Derek Oldham. The Bridesmaids' mock chorus is very good, just exactly as it should be, but when we come to “In sailing o'er life's ocean wide,” the two men overpower the soprano in the trio. A comment of 1887 on Mad Margaret's scene reads amusingly now: “the rather feeble absurdities she has to rave in almost compel her to present the part more as an uninteresting idiot than anything else.” It seems ungracious to say anything against Eileen Sharp's rendering, which is extraordinarily good and in sympathy with the composer — in fact the best record so far — but she is caught at one point, “pretty lips a-pouting,” the voice part has a crotchet followed by a quaver. The orchestra has two quavers, followed by a quaver rest, and she follows the orchestra. “Welcome gentry, etc., may be passed over, except for the criticism that the composer's directions for piano followed by forte at the end of the chorus are not followed. Despard then enters, and Leo Sheffield is excellent in “Oh why am I moody and sad,” and so are he and Derek Oldham in the parody of the old music hall style. “When the buds are blossoming” is a lovely thing, but is not perfectly rendered here. The solos are quite perfect, but the quartet is not properly balanced, the men being too powerful, and when it comes to full chorus it sounds very like the same quartet — or only one or two more. We may be at fault, but fail to detect the presence of the chorus second tenors. The gavotte music comes out very prettily. “Hold, bride and bridegroom,” etc., is a difficult passage, but is very well done, both by soloists and chorus, except that “die traitor!” is not at all emphatic. “Farewell, thou hadst my heart, etc., solo followed by chorus, is very difficult and marvellously well sung. There is a tiny cut at one point of four bars of accompaniment.
The duet at the beginning of Act II is excellent, though sung by the only non-Savoyards of the cast. “Happily coupled are we” is quite nice, what there is of it; the second verse is cut as at the Prince's, but why we cannot imagine. Rose's solo “In bygone days” is just right, but in the subsequent chorus the orchestra comes in too loud, and a good deal is cut. Robin's speech is not very successful. The chorus of ancestors is good in very difficult music, and “When the night wind howls” is first-rate, with good balance between voice and orchestra. The words “So pardon us . . . or die” are repeated in the score though not here. Robin's recitative “Away, remorse,” and song “Henceforth all the crimes” are omitted here as at the Prince's. Despard's duet with Margaret, “I once was a very abandoned person,” is splendid, both singing and accompaniment. The paper from which I have already quoted said of this: “Mad Margaret and Despard Murgatroyd have a scene in the second act, attired in black as Sunday-School teachers, which cannot be said to strengthen the opera by the force of its originality, and is certainly open to criticism for its questionable taste.” In fact they ruled a National, not a Sunday, school, but evidently it was sacrilege to joke about either, or to speak disrespectfully of a district visitor in 1887. “My eyes are fully open” I have always thought the best of all the funny records in Gilbert and Sullivan. “There grew a little flower” is beautifully sung, as it was at the Prince's, by Bertha Lewis and Darrell Fancourt. We thus get the best humorous record on one side and the best pathos on the other. The greater part of the finale is cut.
There are no other vocal or instrumental records of Ruddigore. There are 12 in. d.s. Selections by Columbia, all bands, and a 12 in. d.s., orchestral, by V.F.
The Yeomen of the Guard
Discussion of the 1920 HMV Recording.
Produced at the Savoy, October 3rd, 1888. There are or have been a number of records of items in The Yeomen as well as the complete set. To begin with there was an old H.M.V. rendering of the Overture, played by the Bohemian Orchestra with much more feeling than on the later record, but cut twice in order to get it on to one side, twenty-six bars after bar 96 or thereabouts and fifteen bars at the end. In the set the whole is recorded on one side by playing it much too fast, and its completeness is its only merit. As usual, it is a great pity “When maiden loves” is not sung by someone who has acted in the opera and so can appreciate the part, although Nellie Walker has a nice voice, uses it well and sings very correctly, except for the unauthorised rallentando on “heigho.” The four-part Yeomen's chorus “In the autumn of our life” is a fine example of choral singing; the rest of the record is quite adequate. “When our gallant Norman foes” contains a bad mistake — “doing” — and there is no sympathy for the spirit with which Sullivan inspired the music; the solo ought to be the predominant partner, and the chorus, though an integral and important partner, should be subordinate in the refrain. They are singing the music as written, but not interpreting it as the composer intended. The trio “Alas! I waver to and fro,” which never seems to be sufficiently appreciated in the theatre, is perfectly given, but the symphony at the end of it is cut. “Is life a boon?” (composed, I am told, in the technical spirit of the Tudor period), besides being one of our favourites, is surely one of the most beautiful airs in all Sullivan's work, yet one musical critic has described it as dull. Derek Oldham has the great advantage of knowing the opera, the only one in this cast; despite a slightly too lavish use of portamento, he has, as one would expect, the very spirit of Gilbert, and his rendering is practically perfect. I have an interesting old H.M.V. record by Ernest Pike, but he with his fine voice has not the intimate knowledge possessed by Oldham, and in particular makes the natural mistake, made by all tenors not trained in the hard school of Savoy opera, of pausing on his top A flat instead of the following G flat. This pause is marked in the score, and no Savoyard would be allowed by the stage manager to take such a liberty. The difficult chorus “Here's a man of jollity” is very well sung. “I have a song to sing, O!” is technically perfect, but is sung with no light and shade. Point in practice never has such a good voice, and we cannot imagine him as possessing such a robust one. Passmore gives us irregularities of rhythm, but knows the character and is Jack Point. Hilda Francis, though rather breathless, is far more human than Violet Essex. The orchestra in both these records is excellent, but in Passmore's the symphony is cut at the end. All that was said above of “Alas! I waver to and fro” applies to “How say you, Maiden,” except that in this there are no cuts. “I've jibe and joke” is a very clever song sung by a man with a good voice; the record is technically good but not satisfactory to the real Savoyard. Violet Essex singing “'Tis done! I am a bride” has got more into the spirit of her part than any other non-Savoyard in this cast. My record of this has worn very badly. “Were I thy bride” one can say is perfectly sung, but the rendering has none of Phoebe's mischievous fun. Thirteen bars of symphony are cut before “Oh, Sergeant Meryll, is it true?” but the magnificent men's chorus is perfect and in the right style. “Didst thou not, oh Leonard Meryll,” is the continuation of the scene. The third and fourth Yeomen are cut as they are in the theatre. Oldham takes a top A flat on the last note of “scarce a word of them is true,” which, though done on the stage, is to be deplored. Gilbert and Sullivan opera is not meant as a vehicle for celebrities' top notes — in Sullivan's lifetime this would not have been allowed. As usual, in the trio “To thy fraternal care,” the man with intimate knowledge of what was intended is the most satisfactory. The chorus is very good. A gratuitous symphony is added at the end of the record, not in sympathy with the aims of the composer; the music should go into a minor key and fall from comedy to the tragedy of “The prisoner comes to meet his doom.” The long symphony to this is cut, including a tolling bell which on the record only comes in later. Elsie's solo is also cut, and so is the noble symphony at the end. We are, however, given a very good ensemble; the difficult patter chorus is well done.
“Night has spread her pall once more” is quite nice; the girls' chorus is correct but they do not mean their words. The men's chorus is much superior. A record by Passmore of “Oh! a private buffoon” is now withdrawn. It is a case of Baker possessing the voice, Passmore the soul; there is really no comparison between them. “Hereupon we're both agreed” is fortunately not difficult and is well sung. The symphony at the end is cut. “Free from his fetters” for once finds a non-Savoyard giving the better rendering. Pike, on the back of his “Is life a boon?” sings it with great taste and rare restraint, exactly as it ought to be sung. “Strange adventure” is unsatisfactory. The singers seem nervous of it and off the note throughout. The old Columbia record is a good rendering but for the unpardonable rallentando at the end of each verse. The only one permissible is that marked at the end of the coda. The chorus is bad in “Hark! What was that, sir?” The music is difficult, it is true, but the leads are uncertain. Their work here lacks the perfect polish obtaining in most records of this set. Of the two versions of “Like a ghost his vigil keeping” (“her” on the H.M.V. label! ) the old Columbia is better, but neither is very good. “A man who would woo a fair maid” is very charming, and the singing perfect. Our only complaint is that Phoebe does not manage to convey the roguery which is part of her character. “When a wooer goes a-wooing” is scamped, the symphony being cut at the end, a specially severe loss here. Point makes a great effort to be Point by altering vital notes, which might deceive the undiscerning but makes the judicious grieve. Unfortunately the reverse of “Strange adventure” (Col. 338) does not provide us with a satisfactory substitute. “Rapture, rapture” has been omitted of recent years in the theatre. Quite possibly no one is very fond of it, but these liberties should not be taken. “Comes the pretty young bride, etc., lacks four out of the five bars of symphony. Though an extraordinarily difficult chorus, this is the best record so far. “Oh, day of terror” is very well rendered indeed. On the other side Elsie's solo is cut, which is a great loss. This crime was, however, first committed in the theatre. Point and Elsie are both good and sympathetic in this record. The old record of the Overture had on the back a compressed rendering of the finale, in which Elsie's solo was included, but Point sang with a cheerful gusto that was quite painful.
In conclusion we would appeal to the producers on no consideration to scamp the gems, such as “When a wooer goes a-wooing” — or in fact anything, vocal or instrumental, in the opera — for any reason of time or expense. Their public will willingly buy the additional record or two involved.
Overture. Labelled “Sung by Bohemian Orchestra”! H.M.V. C.511. (Now withdrawn.)
When maiden loves. Ethel Toms, V.F. 1068.
When our gallant Norman foes. Ethel Toms, V.F. 1068.
Is life a boon? Ernest Pike, H.M.V. B.409 (now withdrawn); Harold Wilde, Zono. 891 (Mikado on reverse); Arthur Jordan, Col.. 2925.
I have a song to sing, O! Walter Passmore and Hilda Francis, Col. 317; Ethel Toms and Stanley Kirkby, V.F. 1067 (only two verses, described as “Chorus with solos”). Ethel Toms shows versatility, making records of songs from three different parts!
Didst thou not, oh Leonard Meryll? V.F. 1065 (Pirates on reverse).
Oh! A private buffoon. Walter Passmore, Col. 354 (now withdrawn). (Iolanthe on reverse.)
Free from his fetters. Ernest Pike, H.M.V. B.409 (now withdrawn); Arthur Jordan, Col.2925.
Strange Adventure. Col. 338; V.F. 1067; Parlo. E.5758.
Like a ghost his vigil keeping. Walter Passmore, Robert Howe and chorus, Col. 317.
A man who would woo a fair maid. V.F. 1005; Parlo. E.5758.
When a wooer goes a-wooing. V.F. 1005; Col. 338.
Finale. H.M.V. C.511 (now withdrawn).
Selections: Orchestra — 12 in. d.s. Col.; 12 in. s.s. H.M.V. (on back of Overture in standard set). Band — 12 in. d.s., Zono., V.F., Parlo., H.M.V.; 12 in. s.s., Voc.; 10 in. d.s., Aco, Winner, Duophone, Beltona, Col.; 10 in. s.s., Imperial.
“Vocal Gems.” 12 in. d.s., Zono.
Cameron's Review of the 1928 Recording
Discussion of the 1919 HMV Recording.
Produced at the Savoy, December 7th, 1889. It was recorded without the Overture, which was issued some months later with a Princess Ida Selection on the back. It is a good record except for a considerable cut of the latter part of the first of its three sections. We much prefer the overture in its original state as given on this record without the additions heard during the last season at the Prince's, and to let the “Cachucha” keep as a surprise for later. Every bit of symphony is cut in “List and learn, etc., in the method of the bad old days, in order to get in all the vocal part. The loss is serious, but the singing is good and spirited. “For the merriest fellows are we” is perfect and the time exemplary, and so is “Buon' giorno,” both soloists and chorus. The next number, “We're called gondolieri,” is most spirited, but without intending to be captious we might suggest that the whole duet is nasal and that the singers do not pay enough attention to musical directions, e.g., at “soft serenading,” which is marked dim. to pp. The men's chorus fall into the usual trap of slurring the first syllable of “impartial Fate.” Marco, by the way, overpowers Giuseppe. In “Are you peeping, etc., the 2-4 and the 3-4 time are not quite enough differentiated; quite a nice record but not up to the high standard of the previous three. “From the sunny Spanish shore” is quite decently rendered, but is not one of Luiz' drum taps very late? “In enterprise of martial kind” is beautifully distinct, as usual with George Baker, but is hopelessly uninspired. There is no good alternative. The recitative “O rapture” is unfortunately cut, but the two duets “Ah, well beloved” and “There was a time” are both perfect. “No possible doubt whatever”: “never could make out” is in the score, but is surely a misprint, although both Radford and Passmore sing thus. Radford has a splendid voice and a sense of humour, but is not Don Alhambra Bolero. Passmore's habit of taking things slowly spoils his otherwise good rendering. We liked Buckley's best of the lot, with an extra good mark to his quartet for showing an intelligent interest. Both Vocalian singers appear somehow to have used a faulty copy of this song in which the second and third verses are interchanged — not that it matters much, luckily. The quintet “Try we life-long” is an especial favourite of mine, and is very prettily rendered here. The gondoliers and contadine now return with a beautiful chorus, during which one notices the 'cellos coming out well, and song “When a merry maiden marries.” But Tessa is unfortunately cast; she should not be a deep contralto but a mischievous mezzo-soprano. The last note, a top F, is not in the score, which has a middle F. Bessie Jones, despite the fact that she makes free with the words and gives several wrong values, expresses really well the idea of the song “Kind sir, you cannot have the heart.” “A regular royal queen” is a quite adequate rendering of a popular number. The chorus work in “Now pray what is the cause, etc.,” is very good throughout. The only faults are that Tessa and Gianetta get off the note in the final two bars and that in all the four lines beginning “Farewell, my love” Tessa overpowers her sister. “Now, Marco dear,” is taken very slowly. Gianetta is charming, but Tessa, being miscast, does not appeal to us. The subsequent quartet lacks all feeling, being taken like an exercise in singing — and spoilt at that by the contralto being too heavy. In the ensemble following about twenty-five bars are cut, besides the symphony at the end.
The opening chorus of Act II, “Of happiness the very pith,” is extremely well sung but spoilt by the express speed at which it is taken. George Baker is very good as well as distinct in Guiseppe's excellent song. “Take a pair of sparkling eyes” has been the most recorded of any composition of Sullivan's; I have found eighteen records altogether in various catalogues. I have also found eighteen of “The Lost Chord,” but they include both contraltos and tenors, also duets and a quartet, whereas “Take a pair of sparkling eyes” is every time sung by a tenor. I managed to assemble several pairs for the occasion, and we amused ourselves by trying to decide which was the worst. The result will not be published. Derek Oldham's is the best, but not perfect. It was originally recorded for the set by John Harrison, but later a rendering by Tudor Davies was substituted. The change, however, was for the worse. Davies is affected and has no light and shade. Harrison, though nasal, is, we think, the best except for Oldham, and O'Connor next. The song cannot, under the old recording conditions at any rate, be got onto a 10 in. record without hurrying, but apart from this handicap there always seem to be many faults or deficiencies. It is disappointing not to get a really good record, as this famous song is not difficult to sing, and contains obvious points, ninety-five per cent. of which are missed by all singers, perhaps because it is so often sung out of its context. All these tenors, who are supposed to be in love with Gianetta, are only in love with themselves — or their voices. They may have to put up with this sort of thing at Covent Garden, but it won't do at the Savoy. “Here we are at the risk of our lives” is perfect, but the girls' duet is bad, too slow and without spirit. The “Cachucha“ is played too slowly and does not rouse one from one's chair as it ought. Also the use of the castanets is faulty; their proper use is to mark the second and third beats of the bar. The Vocalion record gives a much more exciting rendering; the voices, however, join in again, which is wrong, and rob us of some of the dance music. Radford is very good in “There lived a king”; we could hardly have had a better, if not a Savoyard. This reminds me that, in the first instalment of these articles, I said (page 11, June number) I should quote an apt case in point of individuals' differing opinions. I had a message from the London Editor, “A correspondent notes Kenneth Walters on Regal G.8677, 'No possible doubt' and 'There lived a king,' as beautifully sung and distinct and Gilbertian.” So I went round to a shop that stocked Regals and had this one played, but did not care for it, and anyway it has the serious defect of being sung without a chorus. “In a contemplative fashion,” except that the singers do not quite work up to the shriek of rage, is quite perfect; where the four separate motifs are in together the score is marked forte. “On the day when I was wedded” is very good; although Edna Thorton takes a few liberties they seem to be justified. “Small titles and orders” is perfunctory, though really teeming with humour, of which the singers catch not one single point. “I am a courtier grave and serious” is very good and the orchestra is well brought out; we have no fault to find. The finale has about a hundred bars cut!
This is a delightful set, except for the miscasting of Tessa and the mutilated finales. It will have been noticed that we have not had to complain of the girls' chorus as in other sets. Several of my records are rather worn, but I have worked them hard. The Gondoliers brought to an end a series of most enjoyable evenings, and I am immensely grateful to THE GRAMOPHONE for letting me undertake this duty, as well as pleased with myself for my promptitude in securing it. Listening critically as we have been doing, we have derived much additional pleasure, appreciating points that formerly were not noticed or were taken for granted. Here I think I ought to put in a word of general praise for the orchestra, to which I feel I have so far omitted to do justice. We have both of us done our best to express honest opinions, but if anyone thinks we are swinging liars we hope he will write to THE GRAMOPHONE about it. To every record's prejudice, I've said a thing or two, yet nobody has said I'm such a disagreeable man — and I can't think why!
N. M. CAMERON
Cameron's Review of the 1927 Recording