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Ivor NOVELLO (1893-1951)
The Dancing Years – selections (1939) [25.44]
With Mary Ellis, Ivor Novello, Dunstan Hart, Olive Gilbert and Roma Beaumont
Drury Lane Theatre Orchestra and unnamed Orchestra conducted by Charles Prentice
Recorded 1939
King’s Rhapsody – selections (1949) [38.16]
With Vanessa Lee, Olive Gilbert, Denis Martin, Phyllis Dare, Larry Mandon and Ivor Novello
Orchestra conducted by Harry Acres
Recorded 1949-50
NAXOS NOSTALGIA 8.120781 [64.02]



Crotchet Budget price


This is the second volume in Naxos’s Nostalgia series devoted to Ivor Novello’s recordings. The first spanned widely, from 1937 to 1950, but this one tightens the focus securely on two famous shows, The Dancing Years and King’s Rhapsody, in recordings made between 1939 and 1950, the year before Novello’s regrettably early death. 1935 saw Glamorous Night, Novello’s latest big musical and his first for a decade and a half. It was followed a few years later by The Dancing Years (libretto by Christopher Hassell), one of his greatest musical successes, in the intense period before the War when it closed after only 187 performances. Later on it reopened and ran for about three years leading to a celebrated 1949 film. The HMV selections were recorded in April 1939 and capture to a large degree the verve of the cast, all well versed in musical theatre and under the authoritative hand of conductor Charles Prentice. It’s Prentice who leads with some elegant direction of the Leap Year Waltz and it’s another of the pleasures in this set to hear Novello himself, either playing the piano or – more rarely – conducting and speaking. Dunstan Hart should have been christened Harty, so full of bonhomonious charm is he in My life Belongs To Me where he partners the incredibly long-lived American soprano Mary Ellis (1900-2002), one of the jewels of the London stage. We can also hear the contralto depths of Olive Gilbert and the soubrettish charms of Roma Beaumont, light-voiced, frivolous and very naughty. Ellis and Novello certainly strike sparks off each other; listen to her delightful singing in My Dearest Dear where he hums away or if you doubt it sample the absolute rightness of her voice in Waltz of My Heart, another of the show’s big hits. She can certainly put some fat on the voice, using a bigger vibrato when necessary, as in I Can Give You the Starlight and altogether her versatility and personality shine brightly.

King’s Rhapsody was a post-war success written once more with Hassell as librettist and ran for 839 performances. There was no diminution in melody or in style (the setting is Ruritanian). Novello died during the later part of the run and Jack Buchanan took his part. The recording quality is obviously crisper and more immediate and the cast is fine, though not quite as comprehensively convincing as the companion work. Vanessa Lee has an attractive voice but not quite the clout or force of personality of Ellis though her soaring moment comes in the superb number Some Day My Heart Will Awake. Olive Gilbert is back, though the voice is now rather more frayed but we do have the welcome addition of one of stage’s most enjoyable stalwarts, Phyllis Dare - still firm of voice though slightly widening lower down (with just a touch of the Clara Butts). Suave hero Denis Martin is bold but the voice is more utilitarian than it might be. Novello himself recites the Muranian Rhapsody, complete with orchestral mini-exotica (ration coupon London must have smiled).

There are some good and biographically welcome notes by Peter Dempsey and full matrix and issue numbers are given with dates of recording as well. I like that. Other companies (no names, no pack drill) please take note. Let’s hope there’s more Novello in the can from Naxos.

Jonathan Woolf


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