Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Email Password  
Not a subscriber yet?  
Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

Glyn Pursglove
MusicWeb International, May 2011

The Polly we can hear—and enjoy—on this disc had quite a complex genesis, bound up with the politics of eighteenth century England. Polly was originally written in 1729, by John Gay and Johann Christian Pepusch, as a sequel to The Beggar’s Opera, the great success of the previous year at Lincoln Inn Fields Theatre. The satire on Sir Robert Walpole in The Beggar’s Opera had been so well-directed, and so sharply felt, that Polly was kept from performance by the government, although the text was printed and was widely bought and read. Much later in the century Samuel Arnold, house-composer at the Haymarket Little Theatre, reworked Pepusch’s music—with a great many substitutions, additions and abridgements. The text was revised—with fair freedom—by the dramatist George Colman (1732–1794), a long-term collaborator of Arnold’s and manager of the Haymarket Little Theatre. By the time they had finished, the result contained at least as much of Arnold-Colman as it did of Pepusch-Gay. Indeed it also included some borrowings from Jeremiah Clarke and Thomas Arne. Surviving printed and manuscript texts have been edited by Robert Hoskins, a leading authority on Arnold, who provides a very useful and perceptive note on the music in the accompanying booklet. The result of all this ‘collaboration’ is thoroughly enjoyable!

Essentially the sequel transports—in several senses of the word—the survivors of The Beggar’s Opera to the West Indies, which allows for a kind of mild exoticism not possible in the taverns and prisons of that earlier work. But the connection with the preceding work is neatly established by Arnold’s overture, a charming melange of melodies from The Beggar’s Opera. The essential message of the later work remains much the same:

Observe the Statesman’s ways,
The Pimp’s are just the same;
And both their own conditions raise
On others guilt, and shame

—although it is presented with rather less force than in the earlier work.The details of the plot needn’t trouble us here—it is enough to know that Macheath becomes a pirate and dies, while Polly rescues an Indian prince and marries him. Ideally, one needs to follow the libretto (available online) while listening—since the spoken dialogue is omitted from this recording and a good deal of the humour and the coherence of the plot is lost without knowledge of it.

Arnold’s music is everywhere engaging; naturally enough, no great profundity or complexity is aimed at, but the entertainment and charm are consistent throughout. What sounds like a predominantly young, and almost wholly Canadian cast, acquits itself very decently, and the playing of the Aradia Ensemble is wholly idiomatic.

This is hardly any sort of towering masterpiece, but this attractive recording fills out very nicely the picture of popular English theatre music in the last quarter of the eighteenth century and is readily recommendable.

This is a world première recording.

Richard Traubner
American Record Guide, September 2010

The work begins with a potpourri of melodies from The Beggar’s Opera-a great idea. The new plot is entirely different, taking place in the West Indies, with pirates and Indians in the chorus. It seems hardly as dramatic or comic as its predecessor, and the satirical equation of the government with the London underworld is absent.

The songs chosen for Polly are pretty, but not quite as memorable as the ones in The Beggar’s Opera, and their new words don’t comment on the plot with as much sarcasm or irony as their predecessors. Arnold also had a penchant for repeating the initial quatrain of each song, which makes them seem longer than they need to...But the performance by the Aradia Ensemble of Canada of the Arnold version is exemplary. Going by the 1729 edition of Polly, this is heavily cut. There were 71 numbers in the published version; about 39 appear here. To be fair, I am not sure that Arnold himself didn’t make a lot of the cuts; he also took it on himself to compose new music wherever he wished. And some of it is quite lovely, like the dances composed for the pirates and indians.

The Big City, August 2010

Arnold meant to entertain with the 18th century equivalent of Broadway, and Polly is tremendously entertaining, with strong characterizations, sincere but not overly done melodrama, and just enough vulgar humor to pique without shocking. The vocal music is lively and melodic, full of energy, and this recording is exemplary. There is excellent, stylish singing from Laura Albino in the title role, and the entire cast is strong. Best of all is the playing of the Aradia Ensemble under Kevin Mallon. They’ve already distinguished themselves on recordings as one of the finest Baroque and Classical groups, and this may be their best performance yet, they make us believe that this is great music. Polly easily satisfies as a curio, the answer to an unexpected question, but the recording stands alone as a wonderful listening experience that one will return to frequently. Another top release for this year.

Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, August 2010

...a tuneful ballad opera. The Aradia Ensemble and Kevin Mallon are certainly not unversed in Arnold’s music as they’ve already recorded his Op.8 Overtures to good effect [in fact, it is the Toronto Chamber Orchestra under Kevin Mallon who perform on Naxos 8.557484 - Ed], and they supply modest but attractive contributions throughout. The harpsichord is discreetly balanced. The winds make limited but always pleasant play. Strings are light, adept.

Many of the airs last a minute; some break the two mark minute; none breaks three. So whilst Arnold edited Handel’s works he was not emulating Handelian operatic example. As a result there’s isn’t time or indeed inclination to build up memorable arias. Instead we have brisk, snappy balladry spiced by two sets of instrumental dances—of Pirates and of Indians—and a freewheeling cast that enters into the light-hearted spirit of the thing with gusto.

It’s best not to delve too deeply, or indeed at all, into the machinations of the plot. Instead one can admire the charm brought to the title role by Laura Albino whose She who hath felt is a genial example of her musicianship. As Damaris, Gillian Grossman has a somewhat hectoring quality. Marion Newman, as Jenny Driver, is the pick of the singers—and her incisive, stylish mezzo is a pleasure to hear; try her When gold is in hand in Act II as supporting evidence; this, like so many airs has a pre-existing source, in this case the song Peggy’s Mill. The Act II air Cheer up my lads is an amusing bit of cod-opera, soundly dispatched by Lawrence J Wiliford. As Cawwawkee, Bud Roach wanders round a bit, vocally speaking. More convincing is the solid characterisation of bass Matthew Grosfeld.

Tuneful spirits set the tenor of Polly, and no wonder it was enjoyed. The libretto can be downloaded.

Ballet Review, June 2010

After the wild success The Beggar’s Opera, JohnGay’s satirical hit of 1728, the government forbad its sequel, Polly, which wasn’t played until 1777, with a score partly arranged and partly written by Samuel Arnold, a busy man of the theater. But while The Beggar’s Opera has often been performed and recorded, this is the first recording I know of Polly. It’s as tuneful and delightful as its predecessor, again mixing folk songs and ballads with Arnold’s fine songs and duets.

The plot takes Polly, Macheath, Jenny Diver, and Diana Trapes to theWest Indies,where Macheath turns pirate and dies, while Polly marries an Indian prince she’s rescued. Many of the best songs use popular dance rhythms, and there are also two nice sets of dances, one for pirates and one for Indians, although with only a few “exotic” touches.

Kevin Mallon, his fine singers, and his enterprising Toronto “period” orchestra give a sympathetic account of this delightful score and the fine notes place it in its proper context., May 2010

The Aradia Ensemble and a batch of fresh-voiced young Canadian singers press their way through this spectacle with verve and appropriate period style…so earnestly sung and so well played.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, April 2010

Samuel Arnold was one of the most multi-talented London musicians working in the late 18th century, holding such diverse posts as organist at Westminster Abbey and director of a theatre staging comic opera.  The first collected edition of Handel’s music was among his lasting achievements, though his burning ambition was that of a composer. His output included eleven existing stage works, the ballad opera, Polly, being typical of his search for an audience pleasing score. But it was far from his own, as it belonged to John Gay who had intended it as a sequel to The Begger’s Opera, which itself was a pastiche, the melodies coming from English, Irish and Scottish traditional melodies. By the time he wrote Polly he had largely exhausted his supply of catchy melody, and had also fallen foul of the Lord Chamberlain who banned its content. Having remained unperformed when Arnold discovered the score some fifty years after its completion, he substituted new words, made substantial cuts, replaced some of the music with pieces that he had ‘borrowed’, and with new orchestrations rebranded it as a new work first staged in 1777. The story of The Begger’s Opera here continues with Polly Peachum’s arrival in the West Indies searching for the deported Macheath. You will recognise some of the music, not least Jeremiah Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary at the close. Each song or instrumental item is short, the opera here offered in the 1777 staging, though in rehearsal Arnold made further cuts. With the attractive soprano voice of Laura Albino as Polly; nice cameos from Bud Roach as Cawwawkee and Matthew Grosfield in the role of a disguised Macheath, and we generally have a very good cast. Kevin Mallon directs the period instrument Aradia Ensemble, the disc offering an interesting excursion into the byways of English music from yesteryear.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group