The Best of Gilbert and Sullivan (1997)

Valerie Masterson, soprano
Gillian Knight, contralto
David Fieldsend, tenor
Donald Maxwell, bass

The Cotswold Savoyards Chorus
The BBC Concert Orchestra
Barry Wordsworth, conductor

Bellevue Entertainment A/S 1122-2
Bellevue Entertainment A/S 1122-2

Stephen Turnbull described this recording in a Savoynet posting:

This is a CD issue of a concert broadcast live on BBC Radio 2 from Cheltenham Town Hall in early 1997. It features Valerie Masterson, Gillian Knight, David Fieldsend and Donald Maxwell, with the Cotswold Savoyards providing the chorus. The BBC Concert Orchestra is conducted by Barry Wordsworth. The repertoire is disappointingly mainstream, but they did include the final chorus from The Grand Duke. It was a decent concert without being anything special; because of constraints of time, not all of it found its way onto the CD, at budget price.

I would add that Donald Maxwell, by disposition a bass, is pressed into the patter baritone parts and makes rather a mess of them. This was clearly a live recording, as there are a number of fluffs that surely would have been corrected in a studio recording. There are a number of errors in the liner notes, as well.

The contents of the program as broadcast on the BBC in 1997 are listed below. Items marked with [*] were omitted from the published CD:

Trial by Jury:
Hark, the hour of ten is sounding
H.M.S. Pinafore
[*] We sail the ocean blue
I'm called Little Buttercup
A maiden fair to see
I am the Captain of the Pinafore
Sorry her lot
When I was a lad
The Pirates of Penzance
[*] Oh, is there not one maiden breast
into… [*] Poor wand'ring one
The Major-General's Song
Paradox Trio
Stay, Frederic, stay!
When a felon's not engaged
With cat-like tread
[*] Finale: After much debate internal
None shall part us
[*] Loudly let the trumpet bray
O foolish fay
The Mikado
A wand'ring minstrel I
The sun, whose rays are all ablaze
Tit willow
There is beauty in the bellow of the blast
Welcome gentry
The Yeomen of the Guard
[*] A man who would woo a fair maid
The Gondoliers
A regular royal Queen
Dance a cachucha
The Grand Duke
Finale: Happy couples lightly treading

Jeff Trim, who provided the list of items omitted from the CD, had these further comments:

I mention these items because at least three of them were not omitted by accident or simply pressure of time. It pains me to say it of my favourite soprano, whose performances, recordings and broadcasts I have enjoyed, and who I have met on two occasions, but Valerie was not on good form here.

"Poor Wand'ring One" has been her calling card for years, but there is an audible fluff in the broadcast performance, and (unless my ears deceive me, an edit from one 'take' to another — I don't think the radio broadcast was truly "live") suggesting that even given an extra take, she could not produce the goods.

At her entrance, she runs out of breath on the long cadenza on "Ma-a-a-abel." This point is not lost on the audience, from whom there is an audible reaction. Most of the aria is okay, with flashes of former glory on the staccato thirds with the flute. However, on the final cadenza, she dodges the first top D flat and sketches in a very brief, smudged C, before the final two notes. It's here that I suspect a second take, as an odd sound on the first note of "Ta//ake heart." sounds like a splice to me.

The solo preceding it is nicely sung by David Fieldsend, including a resounding top B flat. However, shortly after that, on the third "I'll love you", the high G after the turn is a ghastly curdled noise! (Although he regains his composure to finish the phrase more elegantly.)

The Yeomen trio is also unfit for issue. There is an audible intake of breath (from the conductor?) just as the piece starts.

Later on, the singing is going well, when Gillian Knight enters a bar early for her verse. She recovers the timing with an odd made up word sung to the correct notes of "Free-ee" and continues with the second sentence correctly. I should add that the trill towards the end sounds rather ugly too, marred by Masterson on top.

Well that's enough nit-picking. As I said, these two ladies are among my favourite singers, so I don't want to dwell on their mistakes.

Issue History
1997 Bellevue Entertainment CD A/S 1122-2