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'... sheer delight from beginning to end.'

Harold Fraser-Simpson's operetta -


Both Hyperion and conductor Ronald Corp are courageous purveyors of rare English repertoire -- including light music whose vivid qualities invite our serious attention. They could scarcely have amassed a more satisfying cast for this rediscovery of a piece of chicanery that proves sheer delight from beginning to end.

The Maid of the Mountains (c) 2000 Hyperion Records

It was Harold Fraser-Simson who famously had A A Milne's Christopher Robin saying his prayers and the guardsmen changing at Buckingham Palace. He even went on to write music for Toad of Toad Hall (the l929 staging). He could, then, spin a pretty memorable tune, in and out of Gilbert and Sullivan vein : there's not a bad one here, backed up by jaunty or artfully tear-jerking orchestration -- sighing flutes, bassoons, plus solo violin in one of the most affecting 'Nocturnes' in British music of the Edwardian-Georgian period : sufficient, surely, to twang anyone's heartstrings.

The Maid of the Mountains, launched in Manchester at Christmas l9l6 -- the year of the Somme -- and clocking up a run of 1,351 performances during wartime and the immediate postwar period, was a success on an Ivor Novello scale. Hyperion's recording deserves to be too, for it takes off splendidly, with baritone Christopher Maltman (oddly, this is a tenor-free operetta) on glorious vocal form as the brigand leader, Beppo. Teresa, the heroine and forlorn maid who finally settles for a Carmen-like life in the mountains, bids farewell in an aria as catchy as one of Balfe's half a century earlier. The chorus sounds more hand-picked than motley, and characterful too : you'd think D'Oyly Carte had lent a hand. True, their words needed to be a little more clipped; 'He'll know the Reason Why' has a sharp focus just missing elsewhere.

Another soloist, the ever-capable Richard Suart, is an old Gilbert and Sullivan hand; while the baddie -- not the brigand Baldassare (Michael George), but the hapless, incompetent outgoing governor of Santo ('the public all despise me and I'm laughed at by the press!'), Donald Maxwell -- is a seasoned operatic buffo, who nicely cherishes, relishes and polishes his pontificating arias, with chorus usually dancing attendance. Suart and Maxwell parry each other amiably and splendidly in the patterish duet 'Dirty Work'; and the orchestral envoi is beautifully honed. While jazz was scarcely a Fraser-Simson speciality, his syncopated, helter-skelter prelude to Act 2 comes close.

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Copyright © 23 June 2001 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK







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