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W.S. Gilbert & Alfred Cellier: The Mountebanks & Alfred Cellier: Suite Symphonique [SACD Hybrid Multi-channel] Reviews for the product - W.S. Gilbert & Alfred Cellier: The Mountebanks & Alfred Cellier: Suite Symphonique

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2 Product Reviews - Average rating 5 / 5 (Best Rated | Worst Rated | Most Recent | Oldest)

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Gilbert and Cellier - a winning combination!

- 04/28/2018

Having acquired the G&S bug – and with it a particular and abiding interest in all things related to Sullivan – through school productions nearly 40 years ago, and having been impressed by the artistic and technical standards of Dutton Vocalion’s recordings of British music, it was really a foregone conclusion that I would order this release. That said, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect: would Cellier prove but a pale imitation of the master or would he emerge as a musician to be reckoned with in his own right?

It is a great pleasure to endorse the view of Ian B (the previous reviewer) that, on the evidence of The Mountebanks, Cellier runs Sullivan a very close second. I had a smile on my face from the first to last number of his delightful score. Given his close associations with Gilbert, Sullivan and the world of the Savoy Theatre, some of Cellier’s music is inevitably reminiscent of the older composer but the range of styles and emotions, not to mention the deft orchestration, displayed throughout his settings is testimony to his own distinctive voice and musical imagination. There is some beautiful woodwind writing (with, for example, memorable use of the flute and bassoon in counterpoint to the singers) and often striking touches of harmony and rhythm.

The success of the recording is due in no small measure to the dedication of Robin Gordon-Powell and J. Donald Smith in producing a modern critical edition of The Mountebanks. Ultimately, however, the opera’s fate rests in the hands of the performers and it is clear from the outset that those assembled for this recording are immensely strong advocates for such an unfamiliar work. The orchestral playing is of the top-notch standard one would expect from the BBC Concert Orchestra and (in common with Dutton’s production of Sullivan’s Macbeth and The Tempest in 2016) conductor John Andrews brings unfailing energy and drive to the performance. The soloists are almost uniformly excellent, although for me the highest honours go to Soraya Mafi in the role of Teresa. Her accuracy, purity of tone and vocal characterisation are outstanding. Other highlights among many include the concerted numbers involving Catherine Carby, John Savournin and Geoffrey Dolton as Nita, Bartolo and Pietro respectively (especially “Ophelia was a dainty little maid”) plus the sonorous contralto register of Madeleine Shaw in Ultrice’s “When hungry cat”. Only in Arrostino’s “High Jerry Ho!” does the singer sound a little under strain both in terms of range and keeping pace with the conductor’s brisk tempo although, to be fair, the piece lies rather high even for a true baritone.

With the bonus of Cellier’s attractive Suite Symphonique (I particularly love the central Romance) this release really could not be bettered. It is with great anticipation therefore that I look forward to Dutton’s recording of Sullivan’s The Light of the World, again with John Andrews at the helm.


Revelatory ...

- 04/24/2018

I have been well acquainted with Gilbert and Cellier's THE MOUNTEBANKS for many years. As early as the late 1960's I sang several numbers from the piece in concerts, including Alfredo's "Teresa, little word", "Put a penny in the slot" and "Ophelia was a dainty little maid". In the 1970's I was given a tape transfer of the 1964 Lyric Theatre of Washington complete recording, which proved of interest, but did nothing to fire general enthusiasm for the opera as a whole. An amateur revival at Ramsgate in 1983 proved to be so bad as to do a fairly serious disservice to the piece and, in general, with the Lyric Theatre recording, served to colour my attitude to the piece as a whole. A production by the University of London Light Opera Group in 1992, given that the small cast were students and that there was piano accompaniment only, did little to sway the view. Later research into the production history of once popular, but now rarely produced shows seemed to indicate that, for some reason, I could not fathom, THE MOUNTEBANKS had sustained a higher place in the affections of amateur companies than Sullivan's HADDON HALL or ROSE OF PERSIA - certainly up until the outbreak of the Second World War.

My reaction to hearing, therefore, that THE MOUNTEBANKS was to receive a fully professional commercial recording was mixed. Yes, a recording of any of Gilbert's non-Sullivan operas was well deserving of the attention - but THE MOUNTEBANKS?

In the event, this recording is actually revelatory. That the opera was cut in performance is understandable as musically the piece runs to 122 minutes. When the dialogue is added on top this would have resulted in a very long evening. In its cut form, the libretto runs to 58 pages, just one page short of the libretto of THE GRAND DUKE - an opera that is often cited as being too wordy, but which in a good stage performance, actually is very stage-worthy. In THE MOUNTEBANKS some of the long passages of dialogue, such as the extended scene following Pietro's act one entrance, much of which is unnecessary to the development of the plot, merely hold the piece back and interrupt the momentum.

John Andrews and his forces give an extremely sensitive and highly enjoyable performance of the score, revealed for the first time in all its beauty. Cellier is revealed as being, if not an equal to Sullivan, at least a very close runner-up. There is some glorious detail in the orchestrations and some really splendid melody - and the extreme clarity and excellent balance of the Dutton recording brings out every corner of that detail. This recording whets the appetite for the promised release next January of Cellier's most famous comic opera, DOROTHY, on the Naxos label.

All credit to Robin Gordon-Powell and J Donald Smith for the tremendous amount of time and energy they have invested in researching the opera, and especially to Robin for the production of a new vocal score, full score and band parts which have been researched from a study of the original autograph manuscript, printed vocal scores and several sets of original band parts, thus producing a definitive orchestration. To Donald also, for his researches into the various states of the libretto during its long gestation period and arriving at what must surely be the most stage-worthy version of the opera to have been available for many decades. It is to be hoped that maybe some of the more adventurous companies, who still perform Gilbert and Sullivan and other pre-war pieces, may be persuaded by this brilliant recording, to reinstate THE MOUNTEBANKS to their repertoires.

The recording also gives us the bonus of Cellier's 1878 'Suite Symphonique', the fourth movement of which, in a slightly truncated and re-orchestrated form, served as an overture to THE MOUNTEBANKS. This, too, is a lovely piece and well worth inclusion, making the entire 2 discs set a generous 2 hours and 18 minutes.


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