MAID OF THE MOUNTAINS
'... sheer delight from beginning to end.'
Harold Fraser-Simpson's operetta -
with RODERIC DUNNETT
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.
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.
Copyright © 23 June 2001
Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK
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