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ARTHUR SULLIVAN • Haddon Hall & ERNEST FORD • Mr Jericho & FRANCOIS CELLIER • Captain Billy [SACD Hybrid Multi-channel] Reviews for the product - ARTHUR SULLIVAN • Haddon Hall & ERNEST FORD • Mr Jericho & FRANCOIS CELLIER • Captain Billy

[SACD Hybrid Multi-channel]
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1 Product Reviews - Average rating 4 / 5 (Best Rated | Worst Rated | Most Recent | Oldest)

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Peaks and troughs in this Derbyshire-set opera

- 03/20/2020

After quite a time-lapse, given that the recording took place back in January 2019, Haddon Hall now joins Dutton’s series of Sullivan-without-Gilbert releases. To create a 2-CD set, a couple of shorter works by contemporaries of Sullivan are included as pleasant fillers (Ernest Ford’s Mr Jericho being especially enjoyable) but Haddon Hall is clearly the main event here.

Conductor John Andrews displays his customary commitment to and empathy with Sullivan’s music. The BBC Concert Orchestra are on sparkling form as always, doing everything in their considerable power to reveal the felicities of orchestration which are a hallmark of this composer. To give but one example, the storm sequence between Scene 1 and Scene 2 of Act 2 is wonderfully evocative.

Amongst the vocalists, special mention must be made of Sarah Tynan, who impresses throughout as Dorothy Vernon. Ed Lyon makes a fine partner for her as John Manners and indeed the majority of the principal roles are well performed. Angela Simkin, for instance, gives a lovely account of Dorcas’ Act 1 solo “’Twas a dear little dormouse” (Sullivan himself slipping during this piece between minor and major tonalities in a manner almost worthy of Schubert).

Librettist Sydney Grundy was not of the same calibre as the composer’s other more famous collaborator and there is perhaps a fine line in this work between genuine humour and mere silliness. Nevertheless, those entrusted with the comic elements invariably carry them off, with Donald Maxwell bringing all the benefit of his great experience to the role of The McCrankie. His duet with Ben McAteer as Rupert Vernon (“There’s no one by”) and the trio between him, Rupert and Dorcas (“Hoity-toity”) provide further highlights.

So far so good, but I regret that I must now express some reservations. These arise chiefly from the casting of both Sir George and Lady Vernon.

Sir George is billed as sung by a bass-baritone but the singer is rather more baritone than bass. It is all the more surprising then that he does not come across as being wholly comfortable in the part’s higher reaches. I do feel that his interpretation lacks overall something of the stature and sense of authority which one would associate with “the lord of Haddon and of Haddon’s Hall”.

Of the mezzo-soprano performing Lady Vernon, I am – as harsh as it must seem – struggling to find anything more positive to say than that she produces the appointed notes. Maybe the lady was feeling off-colour during recording but what I can only describe as her world-weary vocal persona makes her character sound more like Dorothy’s ailing grandmother than her mother! I found Act 3’s “Queen of the garden”, surely one of the most poignant songs in the opera and arguably in Sullivan’s entire output, disappointing.

On the technical side, the sound quality is never less than acceptable but there are moments in both the Act 1 and Act 2 finales where real depth and clarity are lost as the textures become more complex. Additionally, there are some variations in recording volume-levels between different portions of the work.

A rendition of Haddon Hall by professional forces is naturally very welcome and there are obvious plus-points in this release. However, especially when set against the musical and sonic excellence achieved in Dutton’s previous Sullivan (and Cellier) ventures, there are also a few unexpected drawbacks. Even Homer nods of course but, to borrow momentarily from Gilbert, I must confess on this occasion to some sense of “modified rapture”.


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