I can't express my excitement at seeing the 1957 DOC recordings of The Mikado and The Pirates of Penzance come to light through the work of "Past Classics." Both recordings despite their excellence have been neglected in favor of the later recordings featuring John Reed. Unlike in the case of The Mikado, however, the later recording of The Pirates of Penzance includes dialogue, whereas this earlier recording is music-only. Gilbert and Sullivan completists will buy both, but if you're looking for only one recording, the 1967/68 account will probably be on the whole more satisfactory to audiophiles (Gilbert & Sullivan: The Pirates of Penzance).
Let me back up. This performance was recorded at Kingsway Hall in 1957 in stereo, but is here released in a comparable mono, some noticeable tape hiss and one or two skips notwithstanding.
Take a glance at the cast list:
Major-General - Peter Pratt Pirate King - Donald Adams Samuel - Howard Short Frederic - Thomas Round Sergeant of Police - Kenneth Sandford Mabel - Jean Hindmarsh Edith - Beryl Dixon Kate - Marian Martin Ruth - Ann Drummond-Grant
D'Oyly Carte Opera Chorus New Symphony Orchestra of London, Isidore Godfrey
One distinct advantage this set has over the 1967 recording is Ann Drummon-Grant's Ruth. She puts more feeling into her performance and sounds less edgy than Christine Palmer. Peter Pratt does not sound comfortable with "I am the very model of a modern Major-General" but otherwise executes his role nicely. One exciting detail is the inclusion of the second verse of his Act 2 song, "Sighing softly to the river." Both the 1949 recording with Martyn Green and the 1967 recording with John Reed include only one verse. Why it was restored for the 1957 recording (with the same conductor as the other two recordings), I don't know. Maybe Pratt insisted on its inclusion.
Thomas Round is a joy as Frederic, better even (in my opinion) than the excellent Philip Potter. Jean Hindmarsh is similarly pleasing, though she does not hit the high E-flat at the end of "Poor wand'ring one" like the later Mabels of Valerie Masterson, Marilyn Hill-Smith, and Rebecca Evans.
Another highlight is Kenneth Sandford's Sargent of Police, a role that he later gave up on account of the uncomfortably low tessitura. He handles it marvelously, better in some ways than Owen Brannigan did on the 1962 Sargent recording and the 1967 DOC recording.
Overall, this is an excellent addition to your Gilbert and Sullivan collection, as a stereo release in the near future is unlikely. (If you absolutely must have stereo, Chris Webster has put out an acclaimed if expensive Sounds on CD version that may be poked around for on the web.) Mono-phobes should say away and go for the later D'Oyly Carte recording, but for the rest of us, this MP3 download will give hours of delight.
The vocal performances are excellent in this recording BUT it is not stereo. Given that caveat, i enjoyed this recording. I sang along quite happily, when not blown away by the solos from (in particular) Mabel, Ruth and the leaders of the chorus. Tenors can be an iffy proposition but the Frederick was quite good, and General Stanley was absolutely understandable even in a fast patter. He also really seemed to be into the spirit of the thing.