The RCA Victrola Pirates (1966)
Conductor: Alan Ward
Sounds on CD VGS249
This recording was an unabashed attempt to cash in on Martyn Green's name after he was long past his prime. According to rumors, Green even managed to buy up the rights to his earlier recording of the opera with D'Oyly Carte, so that this set would have the market to itself. Several of the principals (Goodier, Richards and Newman, in addition to Green) were retired D'Oyly Carte principals, but the recording is a far cry from the Company's best.
Several correspondents commented, starting with Dan Kravetz:
Although [Green's] late-'60s Pirates on RCA Victrola leaves much to be desired, I feel the recording acoustic (Walthamstow Town Hall) is the best ever afforded any G&S recording I've heard. For that reason alone, it ought to be on CD, although I can't stand Green's killing the jokes in the Major-General's song ("Dear me, what rhymes with 'lot o' news'?…'Din 'afore,' why that's a difficult one…") as he often did in his later years.
Dan later added:
Green often used ad-libs to overstate what is obvious to most of us, but what he might have felt those new to G&S wouldn't otherwise "get." In the Pirates recording, he says "What rhymes with 'lot o' news'?" and "'Din afore'? Oh, that's a difficult one!" I've heard him do similar damage in Gama's song, after "I can tell a woman's age in half a minute—and I do!" He has the music stop and growls "Never see forty again!" In "All great Judge," after "he speaks, hush, hush…," he would recite the line "When I good friends was called to the bar…," before the chorus interrupts with "He'll tell us how…," He seemed to be unwilling to let Gilbert speak for himself at times.
Chris Webster liked the recording a good deal more than most who have written about it:
I have heard some poor comments about this recording and was expecting it to be pretty dire, but I can't see what the big deal is. It may not be as good as either the '58 or '68 DC recordings — it certainly doesn't have the excitement of the '68 or the quality of cast of either the '58 or '68 — but it is not all that bad. I would say it is equal if not better than the 1949 recording (which I also like despite this recording's many shortcomings). I am listening to it at the moment (the RCA that is), and although there are one or two off moments, I rather like it. This does have shortcomings but there are also some nice touches to be found.
One noteworthy point is the Sergeant of Arthur Richards. Richards played the Pooh Bah roles for DC for one year between Fisher Morgan's departure and Kenneth Sandford's arrival. I wish he had recorded more. There is a short extract of dialogue, immediately before the Policeman's Song, which is superbly delivered (who was it who recently said you don't have to act funny to be funny). It seems as though he intentionally, but very subtly, put slight stresses on the words that would not be stressed in normal delivery, and this made me laugh out loud and play the passage several times. His performance of the song is also most enjoyable given that we have a hint from the dialogue of how he played the character.
Dan Kravetz commented on the superior recorded sound to other G&S recordings because of the location being Walthamstow Town Hall, but in fact, many of the [D'Oyly Carte] Decca recordings were made here. The sound is good but I would query that it is any better than the Decca recordings. In fact, in all likelihood, although it was issued by RCA, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the recording was made by Decca. I am told that Decca did record for RCA over here.
On the occasion of the Sounds on CD re-issue, Chris added:
Though by no means the best Pirates available today in a market that is abundant with top quality recordings, this extremely rare stereo recording of Pirates is, nevertheless, one that collectors will want to have. Made by Decca for RCA in the glorious acoustic of Walthamstow Town Hall largely as a special American market vehicle for its director, producer and star, Martyn Green, with Martyn's connections this recording is virtually an unofficial "D'Oyly Carte plus a few guest stars" recording —check out your Rollins and Witts to verify the Carte credentials of conductor Alan Ward (Isidore Godfrey's assistant MD for many years), and soloists Arthur Richards, Yvonne Newman (Dean) and Harry Goodier. Even the principal guest artiste Ivor Emmanuel had D'Oyly Carte experience. Other guest artistes include Tudor Evans, Julia Shelley and Janet Howe.
Malley Keelan added:
The much-neglected Green stereo Pirates from 1966 is well-worth giving a close listen. I think Green was just as good as ever, and even using his own appropriate age, to match the character. He still sings very well, in tune, and with vigor. Add to that the aforementioned erstwhile DC members enlisted, with a good soprano and tenor (the always splendid Welshman, Ivor Emmanuel, star of many British studio cast Lps and the regimental singer in the fine film , "Zulu," of 1964) and it's a winner. Yes, it is a bit chamber-style, but having seen many G&S shows produced that way, I am used to it. Alan Ward and the orchestra and chorus are fine. May I opine—was this perhaps a proposed soundtrack for a film that was never done? [Not to my knowledge. —ed.] Why else would Mr. Green go to the trouble of producing and directing a studio Lp version with very good principal singers, et al, and it have such a limited distribution? Never a premium-priced issue, as one would suspect, but on RCA's budget label Victrola, no less? I'm sure RCA picked it up for a pittance. At any rate, it should be in every Pirates fans' collection, and Green admirers', as it was his last recording from the canon, as far as I can tell, thirty years after his first patter-role set, the 1936 Mikado.
The conductor, Alan Ward, was an Assistant Musical Director with the D'Oyly Carte from 1930 to July 1949 (except for September 1941, through April 1945, when he was occupied with wartime activities).
|1966||RCA Victrola||Mono LP||VIC 6007|
|Stereo LP||VICS 6007|
|Sounds on CD||2005||CD||VGS249|