Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Sir Arthur Sullivan: Pineapple Poll etc.

I first came across Pineapple Poll when I was still at school in the early 1970s. Each year, Coatbridge High School staged a Gilbert & Sullivan opera before the summer break. I was involved in the chorus as a pirate, a lord and as a Japanese gentleman. However, it was also a time of introduction to classical music in a wider manner. How could I admit that I did not know Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in D minor (Dorian)? In fact, at first I did not know what a Fugue was, nor what Dorian meant! I soon learnt. The school music department was a bit like a club: frequented by musically aware pupils at lunchtime. It also had a good record library. I remember borrowing a copy of the old vinyl pressing of Sir Charles Mackerras conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in Pineapple Poll. It was a piece of music I came to love. Alas, a few years after I left school, the headmaster decided that G&S was elitist or some such patronising drivel. The operas were abandoned and a ‘concert’ was substituted. Such was my first introduction to ‘dumbing down’.

Pineapple Poll was an arrangement of Sir Arthur Sullivan’s music by Sir Charles Mackerras. It was culled from virtually the entire repertoire of the G&S comic operas (and also Cox & Box and the Overture di Ballo). It was designed as a ballet score for the choreographer John Kranko and received its premiere at Sadler’s Wells, London in 1951. The liner-notes of the present CD give a good summary of the ‘book’ of the ballet. Pineapple Poll is based on one of W.S. Gilbert’s ‘Bab Ballads’ called ‘The Bumboat Woman’s Story’. This also formed the inspiration for the better-known H.M.S. Pinafore. However, the story of the ‘ballad’ was developed by Cranko and was given a happy ending.

I have long regarded Pineapple Poll as a satisfying compendium of all the best numbers in the G&S repertoire. I do have a list of the tunes indentified (so-far) in this work and it makes very interesting reading. Unfortunately, I have not seen the ballet, although, I guess that the music as presented on this CD and the ‘story’ allow the imagination to recreate the action rather effectively.
There are a number of versions of this work available - often in the form of extracts or a suite of tunes drawn from the complete ballet. The most recent addition was the Naxos edition published a couple of years ago and happily coupled with Sullivan’s great Irish Symphony played by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra; another was with Mackerras and the London Phil on CFP.

It is not really fair to compare the Naxos version with the present disc. Both are extremely satisfying recordings and both present all the magic and sparkle of the 1951 score. However, I guess that many people will want to own a version conducted by the ‘arranger.’ I have both!

As the liner-notes point out, the remainder of this CD allows the listener the opportunity of exploring some music by Sullivan without Gilbert. Sullivan wrote a deal of incidental music for the theatre including Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Much Ado about Nothing, Macbeth and the Merry Wives of Windsor. The music for Henry VIII was written in 1877 and included four numbers which were all used in the last act. Two of these are given here - a March and a Graceful Dance. Certainly the March is a rather good one, although whether it is really appropriate for the play’s theme is another matter! The dance is a truly lovely bit of music that both charms and entertains.

Finally, a few excerpts from Sullivan’s second and last ballet score - Victoria and Merrie England. This piece was written on 1897 to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. It took the form of series of historical tableaux depicting events from British history, beginning from the time of the Druids. The entire score has been released on Marco Polo 8.223677. However, Sullivan derived three suites of music from the ballets. The first is presented on this disc and includes a March of the Druids, a Mistletoe Dance and finally May Day Festivities from the age of Queen Elizabeth. The music may be regarded as being a little naive; however, it is well written and attractively scored and is most enjoyable for all that - most especially the March.

Altogether this is an important release: Pineapple Poll is the main event and is given what may be regarded as the definitive performance. The other pieces are a wee bit of a makeweight; however they make a worthy reappearance to the catalogue of Sir Arthur Sullivan’s music.

Sir Arthur SULLIVAN (1862-1900)
Pineapple Poll (arr. Sir Charles Mackerras) (1951) Henry VIII: Incidental Music (Suite) (1877)
Victoria and Merrie England (Suite) (1897)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Sir Charles Mackerras (Pineapple Poll)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Royston Nash (Henry VIII; Victoria & Merrie England)
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published

1 comment:

Paul Brownsey said...

"the headmaster decided that G&S was elitist or some such patronising drivel"

Ah, how familiar.

I taught moral and political philosophy at Glasgow University for many years, and it was always remarkable that students tended to think that if they could introduce "elitist" into a criticism, then that was the cast-iron, knock-down, absolutely-no-answer-to argument against whatever it was they were criticisng.

I wonder if this is more of a Scottish thing than an English thing.