Gilbert and Sullivan: H.M.S. Pinafore (CD review)

John Reed, Jeffrey Skitch, Thomas Round, Donald Adams, Jean Hindmarsh, Gillian Knight; Isidore Godfrey, New Symphony Orchestra of London and the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company. Decca 473 638-2 (2-disc set).

The folks at Decca reissued their famous D'Oyly Carte series of Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas in 2003, and this time they included the original cover art and record labels. The sound in all of them is better than ever, the looks are better than ever, and no one has ever equalled the performances. The recordings include the complete operas and, as far as I can see, the dialogue.

Decca's recording of H.M.S. Pinafore, recorded in 1959, has long been one of my Desert Island favorites, so I found myself more than delighted to listen to it again and again. The performance conveys all of the humorous, deadpan zest this music requires, with singer-actors born to the roles. It is, of course, the story of a poor seaman who falls in love with a Captain's daughter, but they cannot marry because he is low born and she is of the upper classes. The plot allowed the Mr. Gilbert and Mr. Sullivan to poke fun at the British aristocratic caste system of the late nineteenth century as well as lampoon certain character types.

Thomas Round is ideal as the fresh-faced Able Seaman Ralph Rackstraw; John Reed as the pompous Sir Joseph Porter, First Lord of the Admiralty; Jean Hindmarsh as Josephine, the Captain's daughter; Jeffrey Skitch as Captain Corcoran, the commander of the Pinafore; Gillian Knight as Little Buttercup, a "Bumboat Woman"; and Donald Adams as the villainous Dick Deadeye. They and the rest of the cast are a pleasure all the way around, as are Isidore Godfrey's conducting (he was the musical director of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company at the time), the New Symphony Orchestra playing, and the performances of the rest of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company and Chorus. They produce some of the best Gilbert and Sullivan you'll find anywhere at any price.

The sound is still excellent by any standards, too, and remains one of my audiophile choices. Moreover, with this rerelease the Decca engineers appear to have remastered the sonics to even smoother effect. High notes and voice sibilants do not seem as hard-edged as in the earlier, 1989 CD's but closer to what I remember from the old vinyl LP days. Add in a more-flowing treble, a magnificently realistic bass, a wonderfully transparent midrange, and plenty of stage dimensionality, and you get a formidable package. And since this is a vintage Decca operetta, expect to hear the characters' voices and bodies actually moving around the stage. This is no mere vocal recital, but a complete performance with depth and breadth.

Other recordings in Decca's reissued Gilbert and Sullivan series include The Gondoliers (473 632), The Grand Duke and Henry VIII incidental music (473 635), Iolanthe (473 641), Patience (473 647), Princess Ida and Pineapple Poll (473 653), Ruddigore (473 656), The Sorcerer and The Zoo (473 659), Utopia Limited, the Macbeth overture, and Victoria and Merrie England (473 662), and The Yeoman of the Guard and Trial by Jury (473 665); plus, everyone's other favorites, The Mikado (473 644) and The Pirates of Penzance (473 650). These are splendid sets, released as mid-price bargains and hard to resist.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa