Edward German is one of those unfortunate composers who, though famous in his time, is almost unknown in the present. His operas "Merrie England" and "Tom Jones" have kept him on the periphery of the English musical world, and this latest recording of his best opera will undoubtedly do much to increase awareness about the work of Edward German.
Let me say at once that the recording quality is extremely high. Though "Tom Jones" has been recorded a number of times, it has never had its first edition on compact disc, but the LPs of earlier recordings have been available on disc for years. Now for the first time we can hear the opera exactly as German wrote it. The playing of the orchestra is first rate - all the instruments can be heard and their notes are correctly played. It also has the benefit of the harp which, to my knowledge, has not previously been included in the recordings. The chorus, though rather quiet at times, is a good one. They sing clearly and no individual voices can be heard - a common flaw with some other recordings. The principals are pretty good too. Despite illness during the sessions, Marianne Staykov sings the role of Sophia prettily. Heather Shipp gives the perfect interpretation of Honour. Donald Maxwell as Western and Simon Butteriss as Gregory give useful aid. Richard Morrison, in the title role, lends plenty of vigour and masculinity to the role, and he sings all of his music correctly and tellingly.
But the recording is not flawless. There are some minor mistakes scattered in the recording, such as the mispronounciations of "Sophia" (rendered as "So-FEE-a" instead of the traditional "so-FIE-a"), "aye" ("eye" when some listeners will say it should be "eh"), and very occasional words out of order. Staykov also shows a couple of bad spots, most notably the added high note at the end of the waltz song - a note which she sings out of tune. In contrast, her singing of "Love Maketh the Heart a Garden Fair" is, hands down, the loveliest performance of the song on record.
The addition of three previously unrecorded songs is also a nice touch. For my part, I have difficulty associating them with "Tom Jones", but I don't like them any less because of that. The trio, "Come away with me, my deary" is bright and bouncy and instantly memorable. I guarantee you'll be singing the refrain all day after one hearing of the song.
I strongly recommend this recording to all enthusiasts of Edward German, and lovers of Victorian/Edwardian operetta. Edward German's operas have suffered too great a neglect since his death in 1936, and to get any more of them, this album *must* be a success. It is fairly priced and prettily packaged (though I don't care for the album cover), and anyone interested in 20th century opera should own a copy of the album.