Donald Adams Sings Sullivan and Gilbert (1971)

Recorded "Live" at the
Wilshire-Ebell Theatre, Los Angeles
Producers: Tom Heric and Milt Larsen
Recorded by: Jim Williams
Edited by: Steve Markham

This disc presents a concert by Donald Adams of various infrequently-heard items, nearly all of them Sullivan songs. It is presented as a "live" (the quotation marks are on the record jacket) recording, but the applause seems canned, and the eight songs here would hardly constitute a full program on their own. Most likely, the album was recreated from an actual concert that included these items along with more familiar material that was not considered to be worth issuing.

J. Donald Smith says that "Adams sounds wonderful (if a trifle sloppy) in bringing this rarely-recorded repertoire to disc." The original issue seems to have been on a private label that had extremely limited distribution. Its 1982 re-issue, as the second disc of Gilbert and Sullivan Album, is more often encountered. The program is as follows:

Side 1Side 2
  1. "Little Maid of Arcadee" (Thespis)
  2. "The Distant Shore" (W. S. Gilbert, 1874)
  3. "Sweethearts" (W. S. Gilbert, 1875)
  4. "Thou Art Passing Hence" (song, 1875)
  5. "The Sailor's Grave" (song, 1872)
  1. The Voice of Sullivan
  2. The Voice of Gilbert
  3. "Ho, Jolly Jenkin" (Ivanhoe)
  4. "The Absent-Minded Beggar" (song, 1899)
  5. "The Chorister" (reprise)

The original recording was advertised in the Spring 1973 issue of The Gilbert and Sullivan Journal. The publisher was Brookledge Recordings, and it sold for either $5.00 or £2.00.

There's been a lot of debate in G&S circles about whether the wax cylinder recording of Gilbert's voice is authentic. It has been published nowhere else, and there is no log of the cylinder's ownership or whereabouts between Gilbert's death and its appearance in the collection of Dr. Thomas Heric, in the 1960s. Donald Adams told Leon Berger that Dr. Heric was legitimate, and Adams said he was shown the actual cylinder. Dr. Heric gave Adams a tape for this record, but Adams did not see Heric play the cylinder itself.

Michael Walters says that the cylinder was pronounced a fake by Quentin Riggs, who is knowledgeable on cylinders. Riggs said that the harsh metallic scratching sound that is clearly audible on the record is totally unlike the surface sound of a wax cylinder, and has simply got to have been artificially superimposed.

In the book Gilbert & Sullivan and their Victorian World (American Heritage Publishing, 1976, pp. 262-3), Christopher Hibbert reproduces a spread of photographs that originally appeared in "The Tatler," in 1904. The spread is titled, "Celebrities 'Found Out'—Mr. W. S. Gilbert very much at Home." There are fourteen photos of Gilbert at Grim's Dyke in mostly comical poses. In one of them, he is standing before a recording horn, and he poses as if he is singing from a piece of music. The caption reads, "I have a fine baritone which has not unjustly been compared with Plançon's." This photograph suggests that Gilbert owned, or had access to, a recording machine, although it could just be a prop.

I discussed this with Leon Berger, a vigorous skeptic of the supposed cylinder, and he observed:

I'm still perturbed by the recording itself. The voice is rather high pitched (even allowing for primitive technology and reproduction problems). This doesn't seem to conform to contemporary reports of his 'boom' which would surely be present, even in old age.

The recording is a version of a 'Thank you' he had already written to his club. Agreed, he may (or may not) have sent a recorded version, or merely had it handy to try out his machine. If it is his own machine, then why aren't there more recordings, and why doesn't he mention it in his diaries the way he writes up his photographic efforts?

On the other hand, if someone were trying to imitate Gilbert, he would undoubtedly be presented as a gruff, unfriendly man. In this recording, he sounds positively normal—exactly what a made-up Gilbert would not sound like. So, the recording remains an enigma—doubtful, unproven, and not verifiable unless Dr. Heric releases the cylinder for independent verification.

Issue History
1971 Brookledge Classics Stereo LP SM-GS-1  
1982 Grand Prix Records Stereo LP GP2-9009 Second disc of The Gilbert and Sullivan Album