The Master's Choice

Noël Coward

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The Master's Choice Review

by William Ruhlmann

Although he composed the scores for 13 revues and book musicals, Noël Coward as a songwriter tends to be remembered for a few of his witty songs, particularly "Mad Dogs and Englishmen," and for a few ballads that seem, in retrospect, to refer to his homosexuality, such as "Mad About the Boy." AEI, a label devoted to unearthing obscure recordings of theater music, attempts to redress this by presenting The Master's Choice, a selection of songs from those musicals leaning away from the witty Coward in favor of the composer who created such operettas as Bitter Sweet and Operette. The composer himself is heard singing "This Is a Changing World" from another operetta, 1946's Pacific 1860, and the one witty number, "I Went to a Marvelous Party," first heard in the 1939 Broadway revue Set to Music, a revised version of the 1932 London show Words and Music. The rest of the songs, drawn from This Year of Grace!, Bitter Sweet, Cochran's 1931 Revue, Cavalcade, Words and Music, Operette, Sigh No More, and Pacific 1860, are performed by a sort of Coward repertory company. Mantovani, who conducted the orchestra for Sigh No More in 1945 and Pacific 1860, turns in an instrumental treatment of "Nina," a very witty tongue-twister when it's done with words, but also a strong melody; and a suite from Coward's score for his 1942 film In Which We Serve. Graham Payn, a Coward protégé, handles the juvenile tenor singing for "Fumfumbolo," which he sang on-stage in Pacific 1860, and "Half-Caste Woman" from Cochran's 1931 Revue. He and Joyce Grenfell, a talented soubrette, duet on "Evermore and a Day" from Bitter Sweet and "Try to Learn to Love" from This Year of Grace!, and Grenfell alone essays the amusing "The Wife of an Acrobat" and "Let's Say Goodbye," both from Words and Music. The soprano Victoria Campbell makes Coward's case as a composer for operetta with "Lover of My Dreams" from Cavalcade and "Dearest Love" from Operette. For the most part, this is obscure Coward, but it is worthy music that at times is reminiscent of Jerome Kern or even Sigmund Romberg, demonstrating that Coward had more to offer as a composer than just settings for clever lyrics.