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Sir Arthur SULLIVAN (1842-1900)
The Sorcerer, comic opera, libretto by W.S. Gilbert (1877) [83:35]
Utopia Limited (1893) (excerpts) [17:28]
New Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/Isidore Godfrey
rec. 1953, West Hampstead Studios, London (Sorcerer); 1963, Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London (Utopia)
ELOQUENCE 482 5363 [48:29 + 52:34]

This is a re-release of one of the earliest directly-cut LP releases on the LK label, recorded between 8-30 July 1953, before its release in November 1953. All post war D’Oyly Carte recordings have appeared on the Decca label. Decca had wanted to extend its classical catalogue and Gilbert & Sullivan seemed a popular early decision by the company.

Their red label LPs started in 1949-50 with Trial by Jury, LK4001 and quickly followed by LK4002-5, Pinafore and Pirates. Then, due to good sales, LK4010-11, Mikado and LK4015-16 Gondoliers were added to the catalogue. Their success caused LK4027-30, Yeomen and Ruddigore to be recorded a year later in 1951 in early stereo. Highlight LP discs (one side per opera) were issued at the same time and explain the matching of couplings, since these recordings came in pairs, usually a month apart, whilst the Company was playing in London. Up to this point, because tape recording was in its infancy these LPs were made from 78rpm cut masters and the records played in sequence to then cut their LP master. In fact, up to 1952 when Iolanthe and Patience was recorded by Decca, LK 4044-5 and LK 4047-8 the LP recordings were all such second-generation masters, but Decca had more faith in this process than tape recording.

Before this The Sorcerer recording (LK 4070-1) Decca had started to put its trust in direct tape recording for their ffrr (full frequency range recording) reputation and so from this time we have Decca first generation masters for LPs. This CD, like the earlier ones was recorded at the West Hampstead Studios, 165 Broadhurst Gardens, London, a Decca studio that once turned away the Beatles! The recordings coincided with the D’Oyly Carte’s London theatre engagements; whilst recording The Sorcerer they were performing at Sadler’s Wells for a six-week season, yet the voices do not sound tired despite having to go on stage each evening following a day’s recording sessions. A second, stereo Decca recording of The Sorcerer was also directed by Godfrey yet this version is liked for three reasons: using once popular D’Oyly Carte singers; no unnecessary intrusion of bells in the opening chorus that tended to drown the strings; and a more atmospheric opening to Act II with heavier strings and less intrusion by the woodwind. The lack of stereo should not worry the listener; more important is the balance of singers with sections of the orchestra. In some of the choruses the men are somewhat recessed.

Peter Pratt as John Wellington Wells could have stepped out of the Goon Show and performs well, while Muriel Harding contributes a youthful Aline with her light voice and air of innocence. The Welsh tenor Neville Griffiths soars effortlessly in “Thine has the power” and the legendary Ann Drummond Grant, wife to conductor Godfrey, takes the role of Lady Sangazure, yet in this recording sounds somewhat matronly. In fact, all singers were at one time D’Oyly Carte favourites. The scene and duet “O joyous boon” is given energy by Godfrey, who holds the tension in the following excellently.

Utopia Ltd was recorded as a highlights disc filler for a recording of Trial by Jury in 1964. In his LP notes, Frederick Lloyd comments that “these reminders of Utopia it is hoped will be of great interest to the many people…who hope that one day it may be revived professionally by the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company.” This portent was indeed the case for Utopia as it was performed by the Carte and recorded complete (by Decca) in 1975 with Royston Nash conducting. Many Savoyards believe that Isidore Godfrey was the D’Oyly Carte’s best conductor and these highlights demonstrate this; they are more enrgetic than the later complete recording. Attention to detail and good tempi were Godfrey’s hallmarks.  A pianist, he had been with the Company for over four decades. Only with Princess Ida was he upstaged by Malcolm Sargent who had always impressed Bridget D’Oyly Carte though not the Company singers.

If we compare his treatment these 1964 excerpts with those of Royston Nash, they are superior and do not suffer from Nash’s laboured delivery or lack of colour. The singers assembled are revered by G&S followers and it seems that the tracks were selected to give each principal an opportunity to perform (and be paid). The chorus sing in most of the tracks and are stunning in the celebrated “Eagle High”.

It is interesting to compare the transfers. The same tapes are used for the Naxos 2005 Sorcerer reissue (review, review, and review) where there are better treble frequencies with more presence than found in this release. Comparing the original LP of the Utopia highlights with this CD version, there is no discernible difference apart from the CD transfer being slightly warmer in tone, with slightly enhanced middle frequencies.

Both CD sets are similarly priced, but the version reviewed here boasts the Utopia filler that is worth having.

The notes in English by Graham Rogers, provide interesting background about how this opera fitted into the G&S canon. It followed Trial by Jury, in which Sullivan’s brother Fred had played the part of the Judge. The part of J Wellington Wells in The Sorcerer was written for him, but he died unexpectedly before the opera was launched.

Raymond J Walker

The Sorcerer
Neville Griffiths (tenor) –  Alexis
Muriel Harding (soprano) –  Aline
Peter Pratt (baritone) –  John Wellington Wells
Jeffrey Skitch (baritone) –  Dr Daly
Fisher Morgan (bass) –  Sir Marmaduke
Ann Drummond-Grant (contralto) –  Lady Sangazure
Yvonne Dean (soprano) –  Constance
Beryl Dixon (mezzo-soprano) –  Mrs Partlet
Donald Adams (bass) –  Notary

Donald Adams (bass) — King Paramount
John Reed (baritone) — Scaphio
Kenneth Sandford (baritone) — Lord Dramaleigh
Thomas Round (tenor) — Captain Fitzbattleaxe
Anthony Raffell (bass) — Company Promoter
Ann Hood (soprano) — Princess Zara
Jean Allister (contralto) — Lady Sophy

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