Gilbert & Sullivan Operatic Highlights

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Malcolm Sargent served as an accompanist for amateur productions of Gilbert & Sullivan beginning when he was 14, was musical director for the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company from 1926 to 1928, and made complete recordings of several of the operettas with the company during that period, so he clearly had the Gilbert & Sullivan tradition in his blood. During the late '50s and early '60s he recorded nine of the operettas with the Glyndebourne Festival Chorus and the Pro Arte Orchestra, using regular Glyndebourne soloists, including soprano Elsie Morison, contraltos Monica Sinclair and Marjorie Thomas, tenors Richard Lewis and Alexander Young, baritones John Cameron and George Baker, and bass Owen Brannigan. This collection includes 20 selections from six of the most popular operettas: The Pirates of Penzance, H.M.S. Pinafore, The Mikado, Iolanthe, The Gondoliers, and Yeomen of the Guard. Most are solos or choruses, with the most significant gaps in the collection being ensembles, and there is only one patter song. Sargent's performances are uniformly at a musically high level; they are models of precise and nuanced playing and singing. They vary though, in the extent to which they convey the element of fun that's essential to make Gilbert & Sullivan performances really sparkle. Some are absolutely stellar; the performances from H.M.S. Pinafore (easily in contention for the finest recorded version), are musically immaculate, scintillating, and wildly funny. Among the more consistently satisfying selections are those from The Pirates of Penzance, Iolanthe, and Yeomen of the Guard, which are spirited and zesty. The Mikado and The Gondoliers come off as somewhat less effective, although the orchestra and chorus are consistently excellent. Another factor in the impact of the performances is the vocal quality of the soloists. Morison is cast in the ingénue role in all of the operettas, but except for The Pirates of Penzance, she sounds too mature for the parts. Richard Lewis is frequently the heroic lead, but he tends to sound thin and strained more often than heroic. Several troopers can be counted on to excel wherever they are cast, particularly Monica Sinclair, Owen Brannigan, John Cameron, and George Baker, who are in fine voice and are exceptional comedians. EMI's sound is clean and crisp.

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