The Al Goodman G&S Recordings

American bandleader Al Goodman made two G&S highlights recordings in 1950 with his orchestra, the Guild Choristers, and soloists that included Jimmy Carroll, Audrey Marsh, John Percival, Martha Wright, and Earl Wrightson. Each recording — Mikado and Pinafore — included about half the music (about as much as would fit on one LP at the time, though the sets were originally issued on 78's). The liner notes of one of the recordings provided this background on Al Goodman:

Al Goodman is a singularly apt choice as a conductor of Gilbert and Sullivan music. This skilled and experienced American musician has a particular affinity for music in the semi-classical idiom. For many years one of Broadway's leading conductors of musical shows, he subsequently built himself a public of millions through radio, recording, and television work. In addition to his impressive orchestral support of many of our most distinguished opera and concert artists, he has worked with such comic talents as Jack Benny and Bob Hope. The Gilbert and Sullivan blend of good music and fine humor, therefore, finds in Mr. Goodman a well-chosen friend.

The National Musicale Recordings

In 1964, the Allegro label released highlights discs from three operas — Pinafore, Pirates and The Mikado. No conductor or soloists were indicated on these releases; the only credit was the National Musicale Company and Chorus. All were poor and unidiomatic, with the notable feature being a patter baritone who sounded like Vincent Price (and was just as horrifying). I am convinced it wasn't Price, but the resemblance is indeed striking. (I later learned that the baritone was almost certainly Ralston Hill.)

In 1965, the Society label released highlights of the same three operas, on three separate discs. The credits now showed Nigil Lukas as conductor of the London Savoyard Orchestra and Chorus. In each case, the re-issue included a new overture and instrumental interludes grafted onto the original material, which was apparently unchanged. The Lukas material may, in fact, be the same as found on his instrumental highlights disc from the same period.

The Society re-issues were thus composed of old material and Lukas's instrumental arrangements mixed together. Everyone who has listened to these recordings is immediately struck by the differences in sound quality and orchestration. There are clearly two sets of recordings, made at different times. What Nigil Lukas's chorus did is unclear, since the vocal items don't seem to have changed from the original issues.

For the Society Mikado, the vocal selections came from the 1954 Allegro-Royale Mikado (discussed in more detail below), with Martyn Green, James Pease and Karl Brock. For the Society Pinafore and Pirates, the vocal selections came from the National Musicale recordings. Despite this, all three of the Society re-issues credited Green, Pease and Brock, even though they only sang on the Mikado disc. One alert Savoyard who was on friendly terms with Martyn Green was successful in persuading the distributor to pull the Society Pinafore off the market.

Re-issues of at least Pinafore and Mikado also came out on the Presto label at about the same time as the Society re-issues. The record jacket gives the same address for the Presto and Society labels, yet, the Presto re-issue of Pinafore is completely re-mastered, and the selections are re-ordered. Why the same recordings were published nearly simultaneously by two different labels remains unclear.

The National Musicale recordings also appeared on 45rpm records and on cassette. These issues were of the original selections and did not include the extra material on the Society re-issues.

Other Important G&S Recordings of the Monaural Era

The Allegro-Royale Mikado
Although Martyn Green left D'Oyly Carte after the 1951 season, he was anything but retired. To a world of fans, he was Mr. Gilbert and Sullivan, and he meant to take full advantage of it. Shortly after he left the Company, he made a recording of The Mikado on the Allegro-Royale label. The orchestra, chorus and all but three of the principals were recorded in Germany and sang with obvious German accents, while Green and two cohorts were dubbed in later. Many collectors consider this the worst G&S recording ever made, but it remained in print for many years based solely on the selling power of Green's name.

Interestingly, recordings of Pinafore and Pirates turned up in the mid-1960s crediting Green and two of the other principals from the Allegro-Royale Mikado, but this seems to have been an error on the record company's part. Green is definitely not singing.

The Bell Telephone Hour Mikado
In the 1960, a cut-down Mikado starring Groucho Marx was one of many fine programs that appeared on the Bell Telephone Hour, on NBC. An audio of the performance was issued on LP many years later. Though no more than a curiosity today, this Mikado is a lasting symbol of the days when broadcast television cared about serious music.

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