Noël Coward

Noël Coward: Conversation Piece and Other Musical Plays

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By 2007, the bulk of Noël Coward's recordings were in the public domain in Europe, where copyright on recordings extends only 50 years, enabling any record label to issue its own unlicensed albums mastered from old vinyl discs. The Gala label here assembles a lengthy three-CD set, running three and three-quarter hours, anchored by the 1951 studio cast recording of Coward's 1934 operetta Conversation Piece made by Columbia Records and released initially as a two-LP box set. The musical was not one of Coward's more successful. He wrote it for the French star Yvonne Printemps, and, set in England in 1811, it told the story of a penniless French nobleman attempting to marry off his ward to a wealthy British marquis, even though she is secretly in love with him (the penniless French nobleman, that is). Coward himself took the part of the nobleman in the London production that opened on February 16, 1934, and ran 177 performances. (A subsequent Broadway production without him ran 55.) The Columbia album is the most complete rendering of the show on record. In fact, it might as well have been a radio play, too, since Coward adapted it to the aural medium, writing explanatory remarks -- in verse, no less -- in between the acted scenes. He recites those remarks himself, and he also again takes the role of the nobleman, speaking in a French accent. And he appropriates to himself a couple of songs originally sung by others; in the stage production, the nobleman did not sing. If Coward doesn't quite dominate this recording, it's because of Metropolitan Opera star Lily Pons, who plays the ward and steals nearly every scene she's in, in addition to singing beautifully, especially the show's standout number, "I'll Follow My Secret Heart." Cathleen Nesbitt and a young Richard Burton (neither of whom sing) are also impressive. Although there was no formal "original cast" album of Conversation Piece back in 1934, HMV Records had members of the cast cut five singles of the songs and dialogue, and this material follows the Columbia recording on the second disc of this collection, with a younger Coward joined by his stage co-star, Yvonne Printemps. In the 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s, Coward and, occasionally, original cast members made recordings of the songs from his shows that often were contemporary to their productions, and the rest of the second CD and all of the third CD are taken up with such recordings, including songs featured in Operette, Bitter-Sweet, Cavalcade, London Calling, On with the Dance, This Year of Grace, Cochran's 1931 Revue, Words & Music, and The Lyric Revue. These songs include such Coward standards as "The Stately Homes of England," "Where Are the Songs We Sang?," "I'll See You Again," "If Love Were All," "Zigeuner," "Twentieth Century Blues," "Parisian Pierrot," "Poor Little Rich Girl," "A Room with a View," "Dance, Little Lady," "Mad Dogs and Englishmen," "World Weary," "Mrs. Worthington," and "London Pride." They are usually sung, with his usual aplomb, by Coward himself, although stage stars Fritzi Massary, Peggy Wood, Maisie Gay, and Alice Delysia also perform. Especially on the tracks dating back to the ‘20s, surface noise from the original vinyl sources is audible.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Conversation Piece, musical
1
0:46
2
2:45
3
1:19
4
3:14
5
0:55
6
0:27
7
1:45
8
2:16
9
3:23
10
4:07
11
0:37
12
3:00
13
3:05
14
3:35
15
1:59
16
0:44
17
2:16
18
2:06
19
1:47
20
0:25
21
0:59
22
0:14
23
1:41
24
0:29
25
2:31
26
6:18
27
1:27
28
1:17
29
0:56
30
1:10
31
0:57
32
1:04
33
3:45
34
2:34
35
0:21
36
2:54
37
0:26
38
1:39

Track Listing - Disc 2

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Conversation Piece, musical
1
0:12
2
2:38
3
0:31
4
1:05
5
1:47
6
2:15
7
1:19
8
6:17
9
2:43
10
3:29
11
2:35
12
2:45
13
2:49
14
2:57
15
3:30
16
3:17
Operette, musical
17
3:27
18
3:22
19
3:22
20
6:30
21
3:39
22
3:19
Bitter Sweet, operetta
23
4:08
24
3:38
25
4:03
26
3:00

Track Listing - Disc 3

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1
2:46
2
1:20
Cavalcade, musical play
3
0:38
4
3:48
London Calling, revue
5
3:23
6
3:32
7
3:12
8
2:47
9
3:32
10
2:45
11
3:13
12
3:28
13
3:07
14
3:26
15
3:22
16
2:24
17
3:24
18
2:30
19
3:39
20
2:56
Words and Music
21
3:12
22
3:02
23
2:03
24
3:20
25
1:40
blue highlight denotes track pick