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Sir W S GILBERT (1836-1911) and Sir Arthur SULLIVAN (1842-1900)
The Mikado [82:00]
The Mikado – Darrell Fancourt (bass); Nanki-Poo – Derek Oldham (tenor); Ko-Ko – Sir Henry Lytton (baritone); Pooh-Bah – Leo Sheffield (baritone); Pish-Tush – George Baker (baritone); Go-To – T. Penry Hughes (baritone); Yum-Yum – Elsie Griffin (soprano); Pitti-Sing – Aileen Davies/Doris Hemingway/Beatrice Elburn (mezzo); Peep-Bo – Beatrice Elburn (mezzo); Katisha – Bertha Lewis (contralto)
Light Opera Orchestra and Chorus/Harry Norris
rec. Small Queen’s Hall, London, 8 November-6 December 1926
no text included
PRISTINE AUDIO PACO 087 [48:30+33:29]

Aficionados of Gilbert and Sullivan tend to have strong views as to the “best” performances of their works, and one argues with them at one’s peril. However there is a general consensus that if this 1926 performance is not the best it is certainly one of the best. I will happily agree with either view. In terms of pure singing it is certainly not the best. Derek Oldham’s tenor is an acquired taste both for his tone and his mannerisms but he was immensely popular in his lifetime. Leo Sheffield brings bags of character but very little voice to the part of Pooh-Bah. If you want better singing as well as obviously more modern recording you might go to the versions conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras or Sir Malcolm Sargent. Alternatively you could go to one of the many later D’Oyly Carte versions, in which case your choice will probably be guided by your preference in the role of Ko-Ko. Martyn Green, Peter Pratt and John Reed all have their devotees but for me, although I am too young to have heard him live, Henry Lytton is so obviously superior to the rest that the present version takes virtually automatic precedence. The higher female voices are less distinctive but Bertha Lewis had both the necessary voice and ability to characterise for Katisha.
 
Previously when discussing recordings of The Mikado I would have had to try very hard at this point to convince the reader that this 1926 version is the one to have despite severe sonic limitations. It was in fact one of the earliest “electrical” recordings, made at a time when presumably all concerned were relatively unfamiliar with the characteristics of the new system. Large portions of the opera have suffered in earlier versions from problems of clarity, balance and general “listenability”. It is therefore a great pleasure to report that Mark Obert-Thorn, who was responsible for this transfer, has found things in the recording that you would never have expected might be there when listening to earlier versions. Obviously it still sounds its age, but for any listener not demanding the latest in recording techniques it is more than acceptable. Indeed in many ways it is much better than the series of recordings of the D’Oyly Carte company made by Decca immediately after the war.
 
As usual with Pristine Audio releases the presentation is minimal with only the most essential information given. The total duration is just over 80 minutes so that the opera spreads onto two discs but Pristine Audio very fairly have priced the download as if it were a single disc which makes a much better bargain for those using downloads. For that and for making listening to this wonderfully characterful performance a much more comfortable and enjoyable experience PristineAudio deserve the thanks of all Gilbert and Sullivan devotees.
 
John Sheppard
 

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