Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Musical Concepts Reissues a Ballet Score for Gilbert and Sullivan Lovers

At the middle of last month, Musical Concepts released a reissue of the 1962 HMV recording of the score for “Pineapple Poll,” a ballet in three scenes created by John Cranko for the resident ballet company of the Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London, one of the predecessors of what is now the Royal Ballet. The rise of the recording industry had encouraged young choreographers to create original ballets based on music that they might have encountered in record shops. This often involved creating arrangements that would fit the resources of a ballet pit orchestra. This was not strictly a British enterprise. Benjamin Britten arranged five short pieces by Gioachino Rossini for a ballet made by George Balanchine early in his career in the United States, entitling the resulting suite Matinées musicales.

“Pineapple Poll” was the result of the expiration of the copyright of a major body of favorite music. In 1951 all of the scores that Arthur Sullivan composed for his projects with W. S. Gilbert came out of copyright, and Sadler’s Wells conductor Charles Mackerras began to toy with the idea of doing unto Sullivan what Britten had done unto Rossini. The project got under way when John Cranko decided that Gilbert’s “The Bumboat Woman’s Story,” from his 1870 collection of light verse Bab Ballads, would make for a highly entertaining ballet. The result was “Pineapple Poll,” for which Mackerras prepared an almost exhaustive pastiche of “Sullivan’s greatest hits.” The ballet was a great success, although one wonders how many in the audience were following Cranko’s narrative and how many preferred to try identifying each of the Sullivan sources as it flew out of the orchestra pit. Shortly after the ballet was first performed, Columbia issued a recording of the score with Mackerras conducting the Sadler’s Wells Orchestra.

Thus, the 1962 recording now available on Musical Concepts’ alto label is actually Mackerras’ second recording of the music for “Pineapple Poll.” On this latter occasion he worked with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, which probably provided him with richer resources than Sadler’s Wells had done. This new release includes a booklet by James Murray that walks the reader through the narrative course of Cranko’s scenario. That summary is annotated by identifying the operetta sources for each stage of the story, although there are likely to be listeners who will prefer not to “cheat” and test their memories by listening to this recording without assistance from the booklet. For those who wish to refresh their memories before undertaking this exercise, the new release also includes the overtures to The Mikado, Yeomen of the Guard, The Pirates of Penzance, H.M.S. Pinafore, and Iolanthe, all performed by the Pro Arte Orchestra conducted by Malcolm Sargent. These do not cover all of Mackerras’ sources, but they will do a good job of preparation for listening to the ballet score.

Both Gilbert and Sullivan fans and balletomanes will probably be “equally delighted” at the prospect of having this recording of Mackerras’ performance back in circulation.

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