The Russell Hunting Company Pinafore (1907)

Sir Joseph PorterM. Anderson
Ernest Pike
Captain CorcoranHarry Dearth
Walter Hyde
Ralph RackstrawWalter Hyde
Bernard Turner
Dick Deadeye[not indicated]
Bill BobstayHarry Dearth
Bob Becket[not indicated]
JosephineAda Florence
Little ButtercupAda Florence
Hebe[not indicated]

The Avondale Quartette
Grand Opera Chorus of 25 Voices

Recorded in Sept.–Oct., 1907

Symposium 1267
Symposium 1267
Edison Cylinder Phonograph
Edison Cylinder Phonograh

This recording was made by the rather short-lived Russell Hunting Company. It included only eleven numbers. Later in 1907, most of the same artists appeared on another, more-complete recording of the same opera made by the Odeon company.

Until 1999, no copies of the recording were known, aside from a few cylinders that had been dubbed onto Pathé records and issued in 1908-9. Then, an acquaintance of Sullivan recordings specialist Roger Wild found two sets of the cylinders, one with nine of the eleven, and the other with ten of the eleven from the original set. The only cylinder missing was #946 (see below), containing the Act I finale (or a portion of it). The ten surviving cylinders have now been re-issued on CD coupled with another very rare recording, the 1907 Pathé Yeomen.

Bruce Miller obtained a copy of the original souvenir brochure issued by the Russell Hunting Record Co., Ltd., "Descriptive List of 'Sterling' 'Special' Gold-Moulded Records of Gilbert and Sullivan's Opera 'H.M.S. Pinafore'." Given the brochure's comment about cylinder #946, it is especially a pity that no copies have been found:

It is unnecessary for us to point out the enormous difficulties we have had to contend with in producing this number. However, we feel satisfied that the result of our energies have been crowned with success.

The Russell Hunting Company
Russell Hunting, an American entrepreneur, was influential in the early years of the recorded music industry, and Bruce Miller sent me the following excerpt from From Tinfoil to Stereo, by Oliver Read and Walter L. Welch, second edition, 1977, pages 144–145:

As early as 1901, a brilliant young entertainer and pioneer recordist had gone to England to employ the valuable experience he had gained in working in all the recording laboratories of America. He was well known to owners of all kinds of talking machines as "Michael Casey." He was as well known in a way, as "Bing" Crosby is today. He was so well known that his endorsement of a product was considered an advantage....

Hunting until shortly before this had been the editor of the Phonoscope... shortly after his arrival in England [he] was made recording director for Edison-Bell.

Another emigré from the United States about this time was to become an even more famous person eventually — in fact to the extent of being knighted for his accomplishments in the industry--Louis Sterling.... Mr. Sterling resigned from British Zonophone in November 1904 and in December registered the Sterling Co., Ltd., to manufacture and deal in phonographs, gramophones, talking machines, etc.... The following announcement was made in Talking Machine News, of London, in the February 1905 issue:

The Sterling Record Co., of which Louis Sterling is managing director, have taken extensive premises for the manufacture of gold molded [cylinder] records at Bishop Road, Cambridge Heath E. - - - the recording department to be under the management of Mr. Russell Hunting....

In view of the breadth of their past experience this switch of Sterling and Hunting back to cylinders [from discs] would seem to indicate their doubt as to the ultimate supremacy of the disc over the cylinder. That Hunting was not a silent partner, or a shrinking violet, may be gleaned from the following announcement made only two months later:

'The Sterling Record Co. has changed its name to Russell Hunting Co., Ltd, but the new gold molded record will be known as the Sterling Record.'

By the following January, an advertisement of the new company in the Talking Machine News stated that one million records had been sold in twenty-two weeks. A short time later it was announced that retail outlets had been created in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand."

Bruce says:

The authors go on to state that the company reached its peak of the business in 1907 [when this recording was made], but the company failed to issue its regular announcement of new Sterling records in July 1908. Hunting had touched off a price war with the other cylinder manufacturers, and it was his company which ultimately folded. Sterling and Hunting were no longer connected with the Russell Hunting Company by the previous May, and the company finally was liquidated in 1912.

Hunting later became a Pathé executive and was probably involved with importing Pathé discs into England. This would explain why several of the cylinders were later re-issued on that label (see the issue history below). Bruce continued:

In 1924 he was among Pathé's consultants, and was one of two people, then employed by Pathé in America, who alerted Louis Sterling (then manager and owner of English Columbia) to secret developments concerning the new Bell Telephone-Western Electric experiments in the new electrical recording process. At that point it had been offered only to Victor. The Bell people had no record pressing facilities of their own, so when it came time to make pressings from their electrically recorded masters to demonstrate to Victor, they used the Pathé plant in New Jersey.

When Sterling received the records on December 24, 1924, he immediately sailed for New York and convinced the Bell crowd to make a license offer as well to Columbia. The American Columbia company was at that time bankrupt, in receivership, and in no position to undertake such an agreement. So Sterling got a loan from an American bank and bought American Columbia. In this way he averted a Victor monopoly in the electrical process, both in the USA and in England.

Howard Friedman was able to elaborate on Hunting's dates with Pathé Read and Welch (p. 196) say, "Hunting was sent to New York City in 1910 to outfit a factory and recording laboratory preparatory to launching Pathé disc machines and records."

Also, on p. 150 they say "in October [1908] the Talking Machine News carried a story that Russell Hunting, who had been in charge of the recording department of Pathé-Freres, was now appointed Director-General of all the recording departments of the company, located at Paris, London, Milan, Brussells, Amsterdam, St. Petersburg, Moscow, Odessa and Rostoff."

Review by Michael Walters
Michael Walters submitted the following review of the CD reissue and also discussed several of the performers:

I was certainly impressed by the sound quality. For the first time I can really believe the claim of cylinder-makers of the time, that the cylinder gave much better sound than contemporary discs.

This set of cylinders is certainly fascinating to listen to, though I felt the sleeve notes were a little over generous to the soloists' performances. Nor did I agree that the announcements were necessarily those of the soloist in question. Ada Florence, I think, announces herself, but the announcer for Walter Hyde and and Harry Dearth seemed to me to be the same person. The notes comment on Walter Hyde sounding stentorian and forte at all times, and not youthful. Hyde was, in fact, the most distinguished singer to have recorded G&S at this early period.

Walter Hyde (1875-1951) studied at the RCM and made his debut in My Lady Molly (for which he recorded an aria for Odeon Records). In 1908 he sang Pinkerton in Madam Butterfly and was a noted Siegmund in Die Walküre. He sang this role at his Met. debut in 1910. He created roles in The Vicar of Wakefield, A Village Romeo and Juliet and The Perfect Fool. He also sang Walther and Parsifal.

On cylinder 942, Florence sings "I'm called Little Buttercup" quite well, but there is little characterisation. It sounds like a person singing a standard ballad from the score.

On cylinder 945, the mysterious "M. Anderson" is, unusually, not mentioned in the spoken introduction. The song seems not just fast, but rushed. The singer is forced to sing it so fast (presumably to get it all on to the cylinder) that he snatches and grabs at the music. I don't find it a viable interpretation of the song; the best I can say is that I admire his musianship in getting through it.

On cylinder 948, "Never mind the why and wherefore," I am pretty sure that the Captain is Hyde and Sir Joseph may be Pike. I based this on the fact that the main characteristic of Pike's singing is that he hasn't any vocal colour. The Captain sings with a lot of vocal colour. The Sir Joseph sings with far less, but he also has some odd vowel sounds that I didn't think Pike had. A mystery here.

The casting is very odd indeed, and suggests to me that the cylinders were not necessarly recorded at the same session, but intermittently, with whoever happened to be available. Why on earth use two tenors and a contralto in "Never mind the why and wherefore" to sing parts written for a soprano and two baritones??!!

On cylinder 950, contrary to the notes, I believe that the Captain and the Bo'sun are both sung by Harry Dearth. This would make Bernard Turner the "anonymous" tenor. Of course, I can't prove this, but there was a tenor called Turner making records at the time. J.R. Bennett 1955, Voices of the Past: A catalogue of vocal recordings from the English Catalogue, 1898-1925 (Oakwood Press) lists four records by a Mr. Turner (no first name or voice range given). These are "Sigh no more ladies", "The Minstel Boy", Excelsior" and "The Fisherman"; the last two being duets with a Mr. Henry (also no first name or voice range given). Although I know nothing of "The Fisherman", the first two are usually sung by tenors, and "Excelsior" is a tenor/baritone duet. That Mr. Henry was a baritone is indicated by the fact that he also recorded "Down among the dead men", and a baritone solo and three soprano/baritone duets from San Toy. It therefore seems to me a possibility that the tenor "Mr. Turner" listed by Bennett was Bernard Turner.

After reading Michael's comments on Walter Hyde, Bruce Miller replied:

One can be a distinguished singer and still be miscast, as Hyde was. He sounds like what he was: a man who sang heldentenor Wagnerian roles. He does not sound youthful as Ralph on the recording, at least as Sullivan appears to have wanted it (judging from various contemporary reports).

Moreover, he ignored Sullivan's dynamic marks throughout (as does the chorus). The charitable explanation for this would be that he did so at the recording engineer's direction, but at any rate his rendition is stentorian — stylistically wrong for the role.

Michael's comments on the assignment of roles on cylinder 950 were based on the cast list as printed in the CD notes. After reading Michael's analysis, Bruce said that he agreed with it, and the cast list at the top of this page has been thus altered.

There is a further problem with cylinder 950, in that the center section of the sleeve notes add a third singer, Walter Hyde. This would make sense, in that there are three principal roles in the passage. But, the brochure lists only Dearth and Turner, and the basis for including Hyde is unclear.

The CD sleeve notes (not the section Bruce was responsible for) state: "The announcements of the solos are by the artists; the concerted items are announced by Russell Hunting." Michael believes, and I agree, that the same male voice introduces all of the cylinders except for #942, "I'm called Little Buttercup," on which the voice clearly is Ada Florence.

Bruce also wanted it known that he was not responsible for center section of the CD notes, listing the contents.

Issue History
1907 Russell Hunting Company Eleven 'Sterling' Gold-Moulded Cylinders 940-951 Deleted after about one year on the market
1908 Pathé Vertical-cut disc 1387 Same contents as cylinder 940 (see below). Other side of the disc is an instrumental selection, described as "London Orchestral Band, Pt 1." Some people believe that this could be the missing cylinder 946, but in light of the description in the Sterling Company's brochure this seems unlikely.
1908 Pathé Vertical-cut disc 1388 Same contents as cylinder 947 (see below), described as "London Orchestral band, Pt 2." The other side of the disc was a non-Sullivan item.
August 1908 Pathé Vertical-cut disc 8027 Same contents as cylinder 943 (see below). The other side of the disc was a non-Sullivan item.
April 1909 Pathé Vertical-cut disc 8068 Same contents as cylinders 945 & 951 (see below).
March 2000 Symposium CD 1267 All cylinders except 946 (see below), coupled with 1907 Pathé Yeomen.
Recording Details
940"Overture 'Pinafore'"Imperial Infantry Band
941"Opening Chorus to 'Pinafore'"Full Male Chorus, and Orchestra
942"I'm Called Little Buttercup"Ada Florence
943"A Maiden Fair to See"Walter Hyde
944"Captain of the 'Pinafore'"Harry Dearth
945"Sir Joseph Porter's Song"M. Anderson
946"Finale Act I"Full Chorus and Orchestra [no known extant copies]
947"Selection from Pinafore"London Orchestral Band
948"Never Mind the Why and Wherefore"Ada Florence, Ernest Pike, Walter Hyde
949[not issued]
950"Englishman's Song"Harry Dearth, Bernard Turner and Chorus.
951"Octette and Chorus"Ensemble