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Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, April 2010

Let me first of all say that those who may have held onto their LPs of highlights conducted by lighter-music specialist (Hunter’s Moon et al) Gilbert Vinter should keep them for archival reasons, but should otherwise gravitate to this, the first ever recording of the whole operetta, or comic opera, or whatever you prefer to call it.

There are plenty of enjoyable moments along the way and this review is a brief overview of some of them. The Introduction to Act I with its Sir Roger de Coverley moments is spry and immediately winning. So too are the recurrent hunting motifs, a hint of roast beef that German indulges so well. Donald Maxwell’s broad accent is a piece of inspiring buffo characterisation—try Act I’s neatly titled On a Januairy Morning. The hero, Tom Jones himself, is sung by Richard Morrison whose suitably virile presence, signalled by a notably well despatched West Country Lad, is a considerable advantage throughout. Another characterful singer, as one may well have anticipated, is Richard Suart, whose Benjamin Partridge is just as effective as Maxwell’s Squire Western. Suart’s A Person of Parts is both a deliciously lilting song and a splendidly put across number. The Sophia is Marianne Hellgren Staykov who sings with simplicity, purity and command of the music’s melodic line. Her Act II Long maketh the heart, for instance, is affectingly done. It’s a shame that the final note of her Waltz song is less than stellar, but it’s over very quickly. Heather Shipp, the Maid has a most attractive lightish mezzo, and first class diction too.

The chorus has been well prepared, and so too the approach to trios and sextets and act finales. Note therefore the ale chorus that is The Barley Mow in Act I. There’s real buoyancy and rhythmical underpinning; what might otherwise be somewhat twee is here fully roistering and ardently embraced. German’s orchestration at such moments shouldn’t be underestimated either. It’s quite opulent when need be—or sounds quite opulent, one should say, due to his canny craftsmanship—but he can winnow to a pertinent brief point too. Elgar was always a genuine admirer of German—the feeling was reciprocated—and I’m sure the older man would have relished Act III’s song If love’s content with its richly romantic patina and instantly attractive lyricism.

The additional numbers represent items discarded during the original production and serves as an appendix to end the second disc. They’re uniformly enjoyable and their reinstatement, at least as regards performance—they’re not replaced in the running order of the recorded score—is a triumph for all concerned. The sound is first class and the forces inspiring. The lyrics can be downloaded— the address is on the back of the jewel box.

Which just leaves David Russell Hulme. His immersion in the genre and exploration of German’s music, as well as his restoration and editorial work, has been of the utmost significance in the success of the set. He is an inspiring ‘German conductor’ and a great deal of the success of this recording is down to him.



Andrew Lamb
Gramophone, March 2010

Though Merrie England may come more immediately to mind amongst Edward German’s stage output, his setting of a much compressed version of Fielding’s Tom Jones is generally considered his theatrical masterpiece, fusing the genteel old English style for which German is renowned with something strikingly more robust. Against the English country setting, German produced a score with sturdily written ensembles as well as outstanding individual numbers such as the baritone hero’s rousing ‘West Country Lad’ and ‘A Scarlet Coat’, heroine Sophia’s ‘Dream o’ Day Jill’ and the Waltz Song ‘For Tonight’, and the maid Honour’s ‘The Green Ribbon’. That the work deserves a complete recording is no more in doubt than that it has here received a worthy one.

David Russell Hulme, the conductor, has long made a special study of German’s music, and his grasp of its scope and nuances is readily apparent. His pacing of the score is much more convincing than that of a 1972 BBC broadcast of a virtually complete version with dialogue. So too is his casting of the work, with such leading musical theatre comedians as Richard Suart and Simon Butteriss in support of the more lyrical leading singers. In those leading roles Richard Morrison and Marianne Hellgren Staykov do the work proud, matching well the standard set by Frederick Harvey and Cynthia Glover in EMI’s 1966 excerpts recording reissued on CD…at the end of the Waltz Song, Miss Staykov attempts an optional high note that she doesn’t quite reach…However, to dwell on this one blemish would be to obscure the exceptionally fine achievement this recording otherwise is. Though we have no dialogue, the recording is not only musically complete but goes further still by including an appendix of three numbers written for the show but dropped along the way.

Together with Hyperion’s recent Lionel Monckton collection (6/08), this Naxos release admirably makes the point that there was a great deal more to pre-Word War I British musical theatre than just G&S.



Ian Lace
MusicWeb International, November 2009

This welcome new release is the first complete recording of Edward German’s comic opera. It is quite inexplicable why this jolly, tuneful operetta has remained unrecorded so long. It seems scandalous that nearly fifty years have passed since German’s most popular operetta, Merrie England was recorded in 1960…A sprinkling of Edward German’s light music has also occasionally appeared. In 1991 Marco Polo released a CD of music by Edward German in their British Light Music series (Marco Polo 8.223419) with the Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Adrian Leaper. It included Sophia’s Waltz Song from Tom Jones Act III as well as tuneful material from Merrie England, Nell Gwyn, Henry VIII and Romeo and Juliet.

Another Marco Polo 1994 release, 8.223695 with the RTE Concert Orchestra conducted by Andrew Penny included German’s music from Richard III and The Seasons…Conductor, David Russell Hulme is clearly passionate about Tom Jones; he made a strong contribution to the recording’s booklet, see below. He leads the National Festival Orchestra and Chorus and his soloists in a wholehearted and sparkling performance with many keenly observed, animated solos. The orchestra respond heartily to German’s lovely melodies, so beautifully crafted and orchestrated. German was the natural successor to Sullivan—indeed German worked, although not always very harmoniously, with W.S. Gilbert—and the influence of Sullivan can be heard at odd moments but German’s own original voice predominates. Elgar and German were friends and the impact of Elgar on German’s music sometimes shines through. Take, for instance, Sophia’s Act II aria, ‘Love maketh the heart a garden fair’—so redolent of golden Elgarian wistfulness. ‘The Uncrowned King of Light Music’, Eric Coates was beginning to write his songs about this time: 1906–1910—his first published orchestral piece, his Miniature Suite came in 1911. Coates admired German. I was reminded vividly of Eric Coates’s style and orchestrations while listening to Tom’s Act III aria, ‘If love’s content’.

The Overture sets the mood of overall joyousness and exultation with its hunt motifs, romance and delightful, memorably tuneful rustic dances. Act III’s justly famous and delightful opening ‘Morris Dance’, is splendidly, vivaciously played here, rhythms nicely taut, dynamics strongly contrasted. German had the happy knack of composing dance music that seemed so appropriate to the period of the productions, be it the Merrie England of Tudor times or the 18th century setting of Tom Jones. There are so many orchestral delights and this review would become unbearably long if I included them all. Listen, for instance, to how German’s orchestra comments between the sung lines of ‘The Green Ribbon’. Listen to how the violins trip along daintily as the innocent young maid goes to the fair to seek the green ribbon to tie in her hair and the clarinet’s wittily, sly comments at the young man’s motivations in offering to buy her the ribbon if she will dance with him—and other things afterwards, for “she gave him her heart then and there…”.

Mezzo-soprano, Heather Shipp as Honour, Sophia’s maid, delights in the wry humour of this Act III song, ‘The Green Ribbon’. But the real highlight of the show is the lyric soprano voice of Marianne Hellgren Staykov singing the part of Sophia. Just listen to her honeyed tones and clarity of diction in her lovely tender Act I song, ‘Today my spinet’ and secure colatura agility in that famous Act III waltz song ‘For tonight’ She is partnered by a sturdy-voiced Richard Morrison as Tom Jones, muscular but yearning for better things in his Act I song “West Country Lad’. He is ideally matched with Staykov their voices beautifully blending and entwining in their duets, especially the enchanting Act I finale song, ‘For aye, my love’. As Squire Western, Donald Maxwell has a pleasing oaken voice and he is expressive enough even if his West Country accent is a bit amiss. German’s operettas are enlivened by their patter songs. Here a sextet, including Honour and maids and servants to Squire Western deliver a hilarious ‘The Barley Mow’ with all six becoming ever more inebriated and their West Country accents are much more convincing. I should add that the extended 10-minute-or-so finales to Acts I and II enchant…Naxos has provided a 16-page booklet with this release that includes a biographical note about Edward German by John Prince, a commentary on Tom Jones by this production’s conductor, David Russell Hulme and a plot synopsis including track references. The operetta’s lyrics can be accessed at www.naxos.com/libretti/660270.htm  

Wonderful and too long in being recorded. One of my recordings of the year.



Raymond J Walker
MusicWeb International, November 2009

The arrival of Tom Jones is a welcome addition as it allows a better assessment of German’s quality of penmanship…In this first full recording of the complete Tom Jones we have a fresh and sprightly reading by David Russell Hulme. Hulme is no stranger to German, having for many years researched and studied the late 19th Century operatic tradition where German received his grounding. From the opening of Act I we can imagine a sun-drenched Somerset countryside with bustling villagers going about their business on Squire Western’s estate. German successfully creates that idyllic country charm of the olde English idiom made popular in his Nell Gwyn dances and later recalled by Coates and Grainger. The second Act is set at the Inn at Upton, …and yes the small hamlet of Upton in Somerset does exist. The Ranelagh Gardens setting for Act III may well be related to the palace gardens at Wiveliscombe near Taunton.

To my ears, the highlights of the opera are the Introduction and Act I opening, the “Wisdom says” trio, the “Barley Mow” sextet, a haunting Barcarolle and the Morris Dance of Act III.

There is a well-founded belief in the theatre that too many characters in a show leads to a complex plot. It may also result in insufficient exposure of a character to develop the personality sufficient to hold an audience’s interest. The characters in this comic opera are many. Thirty are catalogued in the vocal score, many of whom are individually listed in this recording. Fortunately in Tom Jones, many of these characters are embedded in the chorus and so the difficulties mentioned above do not occur. With a book fairly close to Fielding’s original novel, Squire Western, the jovial squire of the village—sung with purposeful authority by Donald Maxwell—wishes to see his mischievous and flirtatious daughter, Sophia, engaged to an insipid Mr Blifil. Sophia has other plans as she is increasingly enamoured by the advances made by villager Tom Jones, a lad who is champion of the chase and is seen as a lovable rascal by the Squire and villagers. Richard Morrison as Tom manages to provide that carefree charisma needed to attract attention and sings well with clear diction in “West Country lad”.

Sophia, sung by Marianne Hellgren Staykov, is charming, especially in the languid and sleepy “Love makes the Heart”, admirably supported by equally fine singing by Rachel Harland (Betty) and Elizabeth Menezes (Peggy) in ‘The Barley Mow’. Betty and Peggy have little input to the plot yet are vital to the balance of numbers. Honour, Sophia’s maid is given as large a part as Sophia and sings in many numbers. Heather Shipp plays the role with the protective innocence that a servant might have for her mistress. In her two solo numbers, I found her very responsive to the situation in a cheery rendering of ‘The Green Ribbon”.

The comedy in this opera is carried by two G&S patter-men, Simon Butteriss (the servant, Gregory) and Richard Suart (village barber, Ben). Gregory who regularly has to cart a drunken Squire off to bed delivers the zaniest of West Country numbers in “Jan Tappin oi niver did zee”, with its phrase-echoing chorus. Ben, who after an introduction reminiscent of John Wellington Wells (The Sorcerer), launches into a patter song ‘A Person of Parts’ that is amusing and well sung, yet with its off-beat Latin adds nothing to the plot’s development. Where was the writers’ joke? A laughing trio, “You have a Pretty Wit” is a jolly, vivacious piece that is engaging because of its brisk pace.

This comic opera, with fast-flowing and witty dialogue, is given a broad West Country setting by its authors Thompson and Courtneidge with its libretto written phonetically; e.g. ‘Somersetshire’ written as ‘Zummersetsheer’, to make sure the words are delivered in the vernacular! …David Russell Hulme imbues the score with freshness in his spirited reading. The orchestra plays magnificently in the warm acoustic of the RNCM’s Concert Hall.



John T Hughes
International Record Review, November 2009

A winning performance…German’s colourful orchestration is given its due by Russell Hulme’s players. If you like a good tune and a story with a happy ending, bear this delightful work in mind.



George Hall
Opera Now, November 2009

Edward German was the leading figure in the English lighter musical theatre after Sullivan’s death (he complete, indeed, his predecessor’s final operetta—The Emerald Isle—in 1901) and his Merrie England (1902) and Tom Jones (1907) enjoyed good West End runs and remained in the amateur repertoire for decades. Though he lacked Sullivan’s brilliance, German’s music is finely crafted and graceful and energetic by turns. Elgar and he ran a mutual appreciation society, and the distinguished critic Neville Cardus clearly had a crush on Tom Jones, in particular. This—amazingly—first truly complete recording of what is arguably his masterpiece is superbly conducted by David Russell Hulme, a leading expert in the field, and impeccably cast. Leading lights are Marianne Hellgren Staykov (Sophia), Richard Morrison (Tom Jones), Heather Shipp (Honour), Simon Butteriss (Gregory), Gaynor Keeble (Lady Bellaston), Donald Maxwell (Squire Western) and the indispensable Richard Suart (Benjamin Partridge). A delightful score, with bags of period charm.



Graham Rogers
Classicalsource.com, October 2009

When, in 1900, Arthur Sullivan died before completing “The Emerald Isle”, the Savoy Theatre asked Edward German to finish the operetta. Named by Sullivan himself as the only man who could follow in his footsteps, German (1862–1936) went on to produce a number of highly successful operettas in his own right—most enduringly “Merrie England” (1902), the popularity of which continued into the second half of last century (over 500 amateur companies staged the piece in the year of Elizabeth II’s coronation!).

Although long since faded from consciousness, “Tom Jones” (premiered in 1907 to coincide with the 200th-anniversary of the birth of author Henry Fielding) was initially very well received: critic Neville Cardus was a particularly ardent admirer of the music and its orchestration, later recalling what a big impression it had made on him in his youth: he returned “night after night”, selling “several of my precious books to obtain admission.” This release from Naxos is the first complete recording of the operetta (albeit music only; dialogue is omitted), and a delightful experience it is too.

It is evident that German stems from the Gilbert & Sullivan tradition, but “Tom Jones” is certainly not a carbon copy of the Savoy Operas. Elements such as the Act One Madrigal Quartet ‘Here’s a paradox for lovers’, ebullient patter-songs and substantial chorus involvement throughout (often chirpily echoing the principals) show obvious homage to Sullivan. But Sullivan’s operas were essentially classical in form; German is far more romantic. Ballads such as Tom’s ‘If love’s content’ have a grand Lehár-like, almost Puccinian, sweep to them and, given that there is still a Sullivanesque preponderance of stand-alone numbers, German’s extended sequences feel much more through-composed. German also goes far beyond Sullivan in the cultivation of a wistful ‘olde English’ manner, heard most clearly in the work’s lively folk-influenced dance numbers. Pioneered by German, this hugely popular mock-Tudor style is instantly evocative (and influential for generations of light-music composers including Frederick Loewe and “Carry On” film scorer Eric Rogers).

British light-opera academic nonpareil David Russell Hulme conducts a committed cast in a vibrant and idiomatic performance. Richard Morrison gives a suitably hearty rendition of the title role. Jones’s true-love, Sophia, is sensitively sung by Marianne Hellgren Staykov—her gently lilting Act Two number “Love maketh the heart a garden fair” (haunting music which foreshadows many of Canteloube’s “Songs of the Auvergne”) is beautiful. Donald Maxwell plays Squire Weston, Sophia’s father, with aplomb—and with a decent attempt at a Somerset accent. As Sophia’s maid, Honour, Heather Shipp is especially beguiling in her flirtatious song ‘As all the maids’. There are enjoyable larger-than-life comic cameos from Simon Butteriss and Richard Suart, and the supporting cast and chorus are very strong. The National Festival Orchestra makes a well-played, sympathetic contribution…

It is impossible not to be won over by Edward German’s uniquely appealing style in this very warmly recommended release.




Jim Murphy
The Age, September 2009

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Geoffrey Norris
The Daily Telegraph (Australia), August 2009

Edward German, he of the once-popular operetta Merrie England, wrote Tom Jones for the 200th anniversary of Henry Fielding’s birth in 1907.

Hugely successful in its day, the score has sauce and swagger, romantic relish, suave songs and a scintillating orchestral palette. It has an individuality of style that sets it apart from the G&S repertoire, with which it might nevertheless be compared, and this exuberant performance taps its potential for West Country accents, its wit and its winning charm.



David Denton
David's Review Corner, August 2009

“In any other country it would have been taken permanently into the repertoire of the national opera or operetta theatre”. So comments the booklet with this new release of Tom Jones.Sadly for Edward German (whose real name was German Edward Jones), it was to be Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas that so dominated the British light music scene that Tom Jones has dropped in obscurity. Yet, as heard on this excellent release, you could well conclude it is musically on a much higher level than the G & S scores. Premiered in Manchester in 1907—where this recording was made—it soon moved to London and played for over a hundred performances. A contract was made to take it on a provincial tour before returning to the capital, but strangely it never made its way back, and though taken into the amateur repertoire, it died in the professional market. The rural style of story was very popular at the time, Tom—who was unaware of his true background, having been adopted as a baby—falls in love with Sophia, the daughter of the wealthy local Squire who has been promised to Blifil, the heir to a fortune. The central part of the story leads to an appropriate confusion, before Tom discovers he is the true heir to that estate, and all ends happily for the young couple. Its setting gave German, a symphonic composer of distinction, scope to include country dances, and all things that country bumpkins are supposed to do. Sophia’s hit song, For tonight—the one song that remains in the repertoire—and Love maketh the heart a garden fair being among the very best operetta by a British composer. The dialogue is omitted, but the accompanying booklet gives a very detailed synopsis. To British G & S fans the cast is self-recommending with Donald Maxwell as the Squire, Richard Morrison as Tom, and the somewhat lesser-know Swedish-born soprano, Marianne Hellgren Staykov as a most charming Sophia. A top sound team provides discs of outstanding quality for a release not to be missed by any lover of operetta.






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