An atmospheric Decca Phase 4 stereo recording of a much-loved Savoy opera.
The work of the Australian musician James Walker can be found on many Eloquence releases, but he appears here in an unfamiliar guise. He trained as a pianist both in his native Australia and at the Royal Academy of Music in London, and soon afterwards became assistant to the renowned director of ballet and film scores, Ernest Irving. From 1947 he was director of the International Ballet Company until its disbanding in 1953, when he joined the fledgling Decca Records Company as a recording engineer. In that capacity he worked as a pioneering stereo engineer in London, Geneva, Belgrade and elsewhere on many recordings which would become staples of the Decca catalogue.
But in 1968 he returned to the podium as the musical director of the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company upon the retirement of its long-standing conductor Isidore Godfrey, who had recorded the complete Savoy operas for Decca. It was in this capacity that Walker made this recording of HMS Pinafore in February 1971 with the D’Oyly Carte company and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
The Decca recording team used the Phase 4 technology to bring the nautical air of Pinafore to life with all manner of inventive effects such as lapping water and cawing seagulls. More durable for followers of Gilbert and Sullivan are the performances of an outstanding cast, led by John Reed as Sir Joseph Porter, infusing every line with brilliantly-judged nuance and delicious wit. Valerie Masterson’s beautifully sung, forthright yet vulnerable portrayal of Josephine is well matched by the elegant tenor of Ralph Mason as a delightfully matter-of-fact and personable Ralph Rackstraw. The supporting cast is no less strong, including company regulars such as Christine Palmer (Little Buttercup), Thomas Lawlor (Captain Corcoran) and John Ayldon (Dick Deadeye). In the rich history of HMS Pinafore on record, this Decca/James Walker production is an overlooked gem.