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Gilbert and Sullivan Society · Exeter · Devon

Avid boxed set of the DECCA First Series


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    Reviews currently included here have been posted by contributor, Ian Bond, and are his personal views, and these may not necessarily represent the views of St David’s Players

    At last DECCA have gathered 15 of their finest D’Oyly Carte recordings together as a boxed set to form a more or less complete set of the Gilbert and Sullivan Operas. I say more or less as of course the G & S opus 1 (Thespis or The Gods’ Grown Old) is missing apart from two readily identifiable numbers and the ballet, although recent research indicates that much of Thespis is still with us disguised as various numbers in The Pirates of Penzance.

    The recordings presented here come partly from what was affectionately called the ‘DECCA second series’ recorded between 1958 and 1966, and partly from the incomplete ‘DECCA third series’, 1967 - 1979. It has to be said that the Second Series in general represented the company at the height of it’s post-war powers and features such well-loved stalwarts as John Reed, Jean Hindmarsh, Kenneth Sandford, Joyce Wright, Thomas Round and Donald Adams. The recorded sound also is fresh and clean whereas in the third series, especially the later recordings, the sound became somewhat harsh.

    Of course there are personal favourites that have not been chosen for this series - Princess Ida for instance is far more immediate,
    far better paced, in the 1953 recording, but suffers from an ageing Victoria Sladen in the title role. The 1965 recording presented here, has the advantage of Elizabeth Harwood and also the young Valerie Masterson making her recording debut as Melissa. Sir Malcolm Sargent’s pacing may be more relaxed but in general this is a beautiful recording.

    What I cannot fully understand is the decision not to use the 1957 recordings of Mikado and Pirates. Both are to my mind superior to the recordings of 1973 and 1967 respectively although of course with Pirates one does gain the dialogue, but Mikado had the advantage of Donald Adams, Thomas Round, Ann Drummond-Grant and Isidore Godfrey. I guess it’s all a matter of personal preference.

    The sets are beautifully packaged and feature the original (and far superior) sleeve designs, a vast improvement on the slightly tacky uniform design employed for the previous reissue. Some of the pairings are a bit odd - I’m sure most of those who know the operas well are used to Trial by Jury paired with HMS Pinafore and Cox and Box paired with Pirates, but such pairings on CD could have led to some strange mid-act disc changes.

    Thoroughly recommendable for anyone wishing to have all the operas from Trial by Jury to The Grand Duke plus Cox and Box, The Zoo, and a considerable amount of Sullivan’s orchestral repertoire all in one place.

      Hear the Graceful Dance from ‘Henry VIII’ used by Sullivan in 1877 as the Overture to The Sorcerer

    The cost of this set constantly varies and it is
    well worth checking out the current price at
    your local store and also at
    Amazon, and it can also be found on ebay at a price far less than you would normally expect to pay in the shops. The catalogue number is 473 631-2.