Scottish Opera - HMS Pinafore - Arthur Sullivan Society Journal

At last year's Edinburgh International Festival, Scottish Opera gave a sold-out performance of H.M.S. Pinafore (23 August) in Edinburgh's Usher Hall, subsequently broadcast on BBC Radio 3 (19 September). It has now been issued by LINN Records as a 2-CD set. As such it is the first new complete G&S opera on British CD since Chandos' Trial by Jury in 2005.

Richard Egarr's enthusiasm for the opera, and for Sullivan, so eloquently expressed in his interview quoted in Magazine 89 (p. 23) shines out in his conducting, which is lively and sensitive, with a few characterful idiosyncracies. His tempi are generally brisk, but he is not afraid to introduce the occasional rallentando for dramatic effect, and there are moments where the 46-strong orchestra really caresses the music. Choral work (36 of them) is very solid too.

The principals are a Premier League team. Toby Spence - with recordings of Ivanhoe and Philip of Mirlemont already to his credit - is a ringing, moving Ralph, though, perhaps surprisingly, he opts out of the optional top Bb in the Act I finale. Elizabeth Watts' Josephine has real passion in 'The hours creep on apace' and we feel for her predicament. Hilary Pummer's Buttercup is as round and rosy of tone as her character is of appearance and Andrew Foster-Williams is a very good Corcoran: his rage in Act II is palpable. Barnaby Rea's Carpenter has genuinely musical low Cs in 'A British tar' - not the growls one often hears. Some of the mannerisms John Mark Ainsley adopts in his otherwise excellent Sir Joseph feel as if he was trying just a little too hard to be funny.

The decision to retain Tim Brooke-Taylor's narration from the live performance seems surprising as the CD booklet contains an excellent synopsis by David Russell Hulme, who also contributes a substantial background essay. But for the most part it is a good narration, well delivered, and it intrudes much less than I had feared. Annoyingly, the narration speeches are not banded separately to enable them to be skipped; but at least they are invariably placed at the end, rather than the beginning; of a track, so it is possible to skip to the next track half-way through, as it were .A break for narration after 'When I was a lad' and before 'For I hold that on the seas' would have made more sense than running straight through and having to explain things afterwards.

Post-production work has been well done. Apart from the final applause, deliberately left in place, you wouldn't know there was an audience. But, at the same time, the atmosphere of a live performance is tangible - and it feels like an opera, not a concert. Perhaps no surprise as it is given by an opera company. Presentation, in a glossy double-fold card sleeve lined with plastic, is stylish in a reassuring, old-fashioned way. All in all, a very welcome addition to the library.

Arthur Sullivan Society Journal
01 August 2016