During World War Two, the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company stayed out of the recording studios. When the war was over, their most recent recordings of Gilbert and Sullivan's operettas were already antiquated. Furthermore, the 78-rpm record was becoming extinct, and Decca saw the value of having the D'Oyly Cartes – who had premièred G&S's operettas in the previous century – record them for the new LP medium. A series of LP recordings was begun in 1950, and it continued until the middle of that decade. Once this series was completed, more technological advances were on the horizon, and the D'Oyly Cartes began a new series of G&S recordings in stereo. The stereo recordings were the first to be reissued on CD, and the pre-World War Two recordings – fondly remembered for the singing of George Baker, among others – were next. The 1950s recordings have been in limbo until recently, boasting neither modern sound nor superlative sentimental value. Still, they are well worth hearing, and, presumably as copyright limitations expire, they are becoming available on CD.
Pearl has taken up the cause (so has Naxos), and this new set joins Pearl GEMS0097 (Trial by Jury and Pirates of Penzance), GEMS0096 (H.M.S. Pinafore), GEMS0134 (The Mikado and Yeomen of the Guard), and GEMS0135 (The Gondoliers / Ruddigore) in preserving artifacts from this era in D'Oyly Carte history. For many collectors, the reason for collecting these sets is named Martyn Green. Green was his era's master of the roles previously sung by George Baker, and later sung by John Reed. His warm baritone voice qualified him to be singer first and an actor second, but, because of his dramatic talents, he gave those functions equal priority. He always excited sympathy for his characters, and he understood how effective it was to create a serious moment in an evening of humor. His diction, even in the most demanding patter songs (for example the Lord Chancellor's Nightmare Song in Iolanthe), was wonderful. He is the best reason to hear these recordings, even though they are more than a half-century old now.
These two recordings date from 1951. It had been about twenty years since Iolanthe and Patience had been recorded. These were the first D'Oyly Carte discs not to be released on 78-rpm first. These, however, were the last D'Oyly Carte discs to feature Green, Darrell Fancourt, Ella Halman, and other D'Oyly Carte stalwarts. (Frustrated with its management, Green quit the company shortly after making these discs, taking several members with him, but he continued to be a dedicated Savoyard for years to come.)
This Iolanthe and Patience are among the best of the D'Oyly Carte recordings from the early 1950s. The singing is on a generally high level, and Godfrey's conducting has an agreeably relaxed (but not slack) feeling. It was not unusual for the D'Oyly Cartes to record a complete operetta in a single day. They may have done so here, but the tension-free and relatively polished performances suggest otherwise.
Green is the star of both recordings. His Iolanthe Lord Chancellor is a perfect portrait of genial pomposity cloaking self-doubt, and his Patience Bunthorne is teasingly effete – but only when someone is watching! In both operas, his diction is superb, his tone is characterful, and his singing skilled but not scholarly. Contralto Ella Halman booms out steady double bass notes and keeps a straight face – to good comic effect. She sounds like an icebreaker in a tiara. As Tolloler, Leonard Osborn gives one of his better performances on record – "Spurn not the nobly born" is both ridiculous and moving. Apparently he became ill during the Patience sessions and was understudied by Neville Griffiths, a tenor with a quavery but appealingly plangent timbre. Margaret Mitchell, not gifted with the best diction, exemplifies unspectacular wholesomeness as both Phyllis and Patience, and Alan Styler is a perfect foil for her, as he shares the same qualities. In the title role of Iolanthe, Ann Drummond-Grant makes the most of her opportunities for poignancy, even tragedy; she plays a much smaller role in Patience. Other singers worth noting are Darrell Fancourt – a solidly veteran Colonel Calverley, and Fisher Morgan, who, as Private Willis, charms with his claim that every child born is "either a little Liberal, or else a little Conservative."
The layout of these discs is weird. The first act of each opera gets a CD to itself, but the second acts are placed back to back on a separate CD. In other words, if you simply load these three discs into your player without programming it first, you'll hear Iolanthe in its proper order, but then you'll hear the second act of Patience before you hear the first. Pearl did this to avoid breaking the acts up between discs. Whether this is a good idea or not I leave up to you. The monaural sound can be a little rough, but Pearl's Roger Beardsley has cleaned it up well. Some studio-based thumps and thuds remain for atmosphere. The annotations are by Marc Shepherd, whose excellent G&S discography on the Internet is required reading for anyone who has gotten this far in my review!
In short, listeners newly interested in Gilbert and Sullivan should choose stereo recordings, particularly those by the D'Oyly Cartes. This set and its predecessors will appeal to collectors who are confirmed fans, especially those who loved Martyn Green.
Copyright © 2002, Raymond Tuttle