The Best of Gilbert and Sullivan (196-?)

James Verity conducts the 110 String Orchestra
With the Buckingham Chorale

Review by Bruce Miller

Golden Tone 9667-S
Golden Tone 9667-S

This album is undated, but as it is stereo it has to be 1958 or later. It appears to be post-1961, because the origin is probably British (judging by the authentic-sounding accents) and therefore probably done after the 1961 copyright expiration for the words. There may well be a British version of this disc.

The stereo sound is mediocre. The chorus and orchestra are distantly miked (the soloists are much closer), and the sound, while quite reverberant, is thin and tinny (the high range is emphasized). In other words, this is typical stereo sound designed for the less discriminating home market where flashy sound was valued more highly than a full range, realistic sound.

The label, Golden Tone Stereo, is among those off-brands one saw in low-scale department stores like Woolworth's, and even in some supermarkets, around the mid-1960's. (There is no manufacturer's or publisher's name or address anywhere on the liner notes or record label.) Sometimes these were given away as premiums when one bought a stereo record player.

Sometimes the performances on these labels were quite good, and this is one example of a fine performance hidden away in an unlikely company's output. The name of the orchestra, "110 Strings," is a play on the more famous RCA Victor ensemble "101 Strings" which issued numerous "easy listening" albums of lush orchestral music. This ensemble is a more normal-sounding group, and in fact about half of the tracks on this record reproduce Sullivan's original orchestrations almost exactly. I say "almost," because there are some strange intrusions of spurious instruments. An authentic "Tit-Willow" has moments of rather unobtrusive harp. The addition of harp doesn't really add anything, but it doesn't get in the way, either. The re-orchestrations on the remainder of the tracks are, however, often overblown and, in some instances, ludicrous. The orchestra itself is quite decent, much more than competent.

From the cover and label descriptions, one might expect that there were no soloists on the recording when in fact they are a major feature of the album. Most of the selections are sung by soloists, ensembles and chorus precisely as Sullivan had written them. The uncredited soloists are all of high caliber; that their names are omitted is an injustice. The soprano who sings "Poor wandr'ing one," for an example, does a splendid job with her coloratura.

The first band on each side is performed by orchestra alone. "Behold the Lord High Executioner" and "Farewell, my own" are both reorchestrated to include the solo and choral lines, and both preserve Sullivan's original harmonic movement (as does every orchestral arrangement in this album). The latter arrangement gets quite creative towards the end and while it goes into a style Sullivan probably would not have dreamed of writing, it's affecting in its own right.

The sense of theatricality inherent throughout suggests these are all singers who were accustomed to performing G & S on the stage. It is also noteworthy, and refreshing, that there is a strict adherence to the score in interpretation; the typical D'Oyly Carte schtick is almost completely absent.

Thus the characterizations sound fresh, and they are always vital. I especially liked the Little Buttercup solo, which was about as alive with energy and characterization as I've ever heard it. And you could understand every word she sang.

Sometimes an attempt to be interesting misfired. The Captain is sung by a bass-baritone, and to my taste "I am the Captain of the Pinafore" is too heavy and ponderous. The Major's General's patter song is so slow that the "Slow" third verse is almost indistinguishable in tempo from the two "Fast" verses which precede it. There is, however, no mistaking the diction.

The conductor, James Verity, was a man with interesting ideas and was not afraid to carry them out. I found this album stimulating to hear and, while I didn't always agree with everything he did (especially some of the reorchestrations and some of the tempi, which were all on the slow side), it was fun to hear what he and his singers were doing. If you can find a copy of this record, it's one you might very well enjoy and will listen to more than once.

Contents are as follows:

Side ASide B
  • "Behold the Lord High Executioner"
  • "When I was a lad"
  • "A wand'ring minstrel"
  • "I'm called Little Buttercup"
  • "My object all sublime"
  • "Three little maids"
  • "With cat-like tread"
  • "Farewell my own"
  • "A policeman's lot"
  • "Tit-willow"
  • "Poor wandering one"
  • "I am the captain of the Pinafore"
  • "I am the very model of a modern major-general"
  • "The flowers that bloom in the spring"
  • "We sail the ocean blue"
Issue History
196-? Golden Tone Stereo LP 9667-S