Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Album Review: Gilbert & Sullivan: "Cox and Box;" "Trial by Jury"

Gilbert & Sullivan: "Cox and Box;" "Trial by Jury"
Richard Hickox, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Chandos, 2005

New recordings of "Cox and Box" don't come along all that often. This one-act, three-man score is probably fairly well known to Gilbert & Sullivan fans. The libretto is by F. C. Burnand, not Gilbert, after the stage farce "Box and Cox" by J. Maddison Morton. Whatever professional aspirations Sullivan may have had, it's clear that he was born to write comic opera, and the music here is really a notch or two better than what the material deserves.

This 2005 recording is by Richard Hickox with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. It has some new linking dialogue that is not authentic and, I would suggest, not that helpful. It also boasts that it is the premier recording of the original orchestration, which I suppose raises the question of what orchestration the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company was using in its recordings. It's no secret that D'Oyly Carte edited the score of Cox and Box, among other operettas, with a fairly heavy hand, but their recording is very enjoyable and every syllable is absolutely clear, something the present recording can't claim. I'd give D'Oyly Carte's last version of 1978, the one I am familiar with, the edge over this one, authentic orchestration notwithstanding. Still, I don't understand why anyone, yesterday or today, would record this piece without the clever gambling duet. I suppose we'll have to wait some time for a truly complete recording.

"Trial by Jury" is the second piece on the disc. This is a true Gilbert & Sullivan collaboration, their first real commercial success. It's really always great to listen to this in any version, but I have to recommend once again a D'Oyly Carte recording, perhaps one with John Reed as the Judge. In this case, it's the centenary recording of 1975 with which I am most familiar, and I would rate it more highly than this one.

Note: The most recent post prior to this one (and three newer posts) also featured my reviews of various recordings of Arthur Sullivan's music. In yesterday's post I review a 2000 recording by Richard Hickox with the BBC Philharmonic of Sullivan's orchestral music.


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