Gilbert and Sullivan / Pirates of Penzance – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

EXCELLENT sound on EVERY side, which means it is truly a Demo Disc. On virtually every side it has the kind of rich, sweet Decca/London sound over which we audiophiles have been known to drool. It’s nothing short of AMAZING on the White Hot side — so lively, rich and HUGE. This is a Top London pressing in every way. 

And it just so happens that such superb sonics are found on a lowly budget reissue, the Jubilee London label, pressed in Holland no less! Thank goodness we don’t judge records either by their labels, their country of manufacture or their pressing era.

If we had — as virtually every record seller in the world does to this very day — we would never have discovered how good this music can sound.

Do the original pressings sound as good as this one? Not in our experience. We prefer the sound of vintage Golden Age All Tube recordings that have been mastered with the better transistor cutting equipment that became available in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

That’s what this is to a “T.” We found a batch of these box sets sealed, cracked them open, liked what we heard and decided to clean them up and give them a serious listen. We’re glad we did. Not only is the sound SUPERB in every respect, but the music is some of the best light opera ever written. Check out the rave reviews from back in the day, keeping in mind that this music has been performed without interruption for more than a hundred years.

The hall is HUGE: spacious and open as any you will hear, but not at the expense of richness or fullness. The orchestra is solid and full-bodied, yet the woodwinds and flutes soar above the other sections, so breathy and clear. How did the Decca engineers succeed so brilliantly where so many others have failed, failing right up until this very day?

Who knows? It’s still a mystery that has yet to be explained, to my satisfaction anyway.

Side One

A++! A very strong showing here, a tiny bit veiled but rich, sweet, huge and open. The choruses are breathy and clear, two qualities that many copies fail to deliver.

Side Two

A+ to A++. Transparent but not as rich as the best. Zero distortion though.

Side Three

A+++! This is an incredibly good sounding side, clearly the best side three of the four copies we played in our shootout and by far the best I have ever heard this music sound (only natural when you take into account the continuously improving stereo and room).

Listen to how rich the lower strings sound — that is a sound to die for! Tonally correct and lively, this one had no faults to speak of.

Side Four

A+ to A++. A bit recessed, not as lively as the best, but still tonally correct, rich and sweet.

Essential Music – And Lovely Singing

The music of Gilbert and Sullivan belongs in any serious classical collection. This is without a doubt the best way to get the most Gilbert and Sullivan music with the best sound.

If for some reason you don’t have a good recording of Gilbert and Sullivan’s music, you are really missing out. This is some of the most wonderful music ever composed. It’s the kind of music that will immediately put you in a good mood. For music and sound, this one is hard to fault.

As liner notes for another production say, “…immense charm, good-natured energy and the ‘rightness’ that announces the influence of a superb musical command.”.

Wikipedia’s Entry

The notices from critics were generally excellent in both New York and London in 1880.[23] In New York, the Herald and the Tribune both dedicated considerable space to their reviews. The Herald took the view that “the new work is in every respect superior to the Pinafore, the text more humorous, the music more elegant and more elaborate.”[24] The Tribune called it “a brilliant and complete success”, commenting, “The humor of the Pirates is richer, but more recondite. It demands a closer attention to the words [but] there are great stores of wit and drollery … which will well repay exploration. …

The music is fresh, bright, elegant and merry, and much of it belongs to a higher order of art than the most popular of the tunes of Pinafore.”[25] The New York Times also praised the work, writing, “it would be impossible for a confirmed misanthrope to refrain from merriment over it”, though the paper doubted if Pirates could repeat the prodigious success of Pinafore.

After the London premiere, the critical consensus, led by the theatrical newspaper The Era, was that the new work marked a distinct advance on Gilbert and Sullivan’s earlier works.[19] The Pall Mall Gazette said, “Of Mr. Sullivan’s music we must speak in detail on some other occasion. Suffice it for the present to say that in the new style which he has marked out for himself it is the best he has written.”[26] The Graphic wrote, “That no composer can meet the requirements of Mr. Gilbert like Mr. Sullivan, and vice versa, is a fact universally admitted. One might fancy that verse and music were of simultaneous growth, so closely and firmly are they interwoven.

Away from this consideration, the score of The Pirates of Penzance is one upon which Mr. Sullivan must have bestowed earnest consideration, for independently of its constant flow of melody, it is written throughout for voices and instruments with infinite care, and the issue is a cabinet miniature of exquisitely defined proportions. … That the Pirates is a clear advance upon its precursors, from Trial by Jury to H.M.S. Pinafore, cannot be denied; it contains more variety, marked character, careful workmanship, and is in fact a more finished artistic achievement … a brilliant success.”