David Russell Hulme

Edward German: Tom Jones

(CD - Naxos #8660270-71)

Review by

Edward German's operetta Tom Jones, based on Henry Fielding's sprawling novel, was a huge success both in Great Britain and New York immediately after its premiere in 1907, but it quickly fell into that wasteland of operas that are often heard of, but rarely actually heard. Part of the problem is that the operetta genre was already slipping out of favor with the public by the time the piece was written. German was in many ways a successor to Arthur Sullivan, a fact Sullivan himself acknowledged, but his operettas, as tuneful and skillfully put together as they are, are no competition for the Savoy classics. German's operettas are more overtly Romantic than Sullivan's, and they incorporate English folk idioms, as well as popular music of the new century, but their texts are no match for W.S. Gilbert's brilliant librettos. Tom Jones is a thoroughly respectable essay in the form, written with a generous lyricism, graceful melodies, wit, and nuanced attention to period detail, and it should be of special interest to Anglophiles who love light British music of the early part of the century. Naxos has assembled a first-rate ensemble of performers -- there are no weak links here -- who make a strong case for the work's many virtues. Among the leads, soprano Marianne Hellgren Staykov and mezzo-soprano Heather Shipp are especially engaging and vocally outstanding, and baritone Richard Morrison is very fine in the title role. David Russell Hulme leads the National Festival Orchestra and Chorus in performances that are spirited and polished; this production is clearly a labor of love. The sound is full warm and clean, but does little to create a sense of theatrical space.

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