Sources: "The Pirates of Penzance"--Decca studio recording, July 1949. "Trial by Jury"--Decca studio recording, September 1949.
Sound: While these performances were originally issued in Lp format--two Lps for Pirates and one for "Trial", they were recorded on matrices rather than tape. The sound is decent early Lp mono, better than contemporary pop music but not leading edge for classical music of the time. Naxos has done a nice job of cleaning up the background noises and has corrected at least one pitch problem in "Trial".
Text: "Trial by Jury" is both the earliest and the shortest surviving Gilbert and Sullivan score. No significant alterations or omissions have taken place from the first run to the present day. On the other hand, the D'Oyly Carte Company did tend to make a few changes in "The Pirates of Penzance". On this recording, there are two significant omissions. In Act II, a verse of the Major General's song, "Sighing Softly to the River", has been cut, as has the churchly interchange between the Sergeant of Police and his men. Both these omissions reflect the stage practice of the D'Oyly Carte Company at the time of the recording. (With due respect to Mr. Beamer, who wrote the previous review, "Hail Poetry" appears quite plainly in track 16 of Disk 1 of this set.)
Documentation: No libretto. Thumbnail biographies for some of the principal performers. Short plot summaries.
Making judgements about matters of performance is always an idiosyncratic business. On one hand, Mr. Beamer, having seen "a few amateur community productions," judges many of the tempi to be too fast and finds that dramatic pauses have been omitted. On the other, a leading G&S internet fan site criticizes the 1949 "Pirates" for being "stodgy, 4-square and pedantic." As for myself, based on participating in about 400 G&S performances, including three separate productions of "Pirates", I think the tempi on these recordings are generally right and the dramatic pauses, where they occur, pretty much the way Sullivan wrote them. Plainly, too, Mr. Beamer is far more acutely sensitive to errors in pitch than I am.
With regard to the singers, I hold them in substantially higher regard than Mr. Beamer, although I do agree with Mr. Behrens that the soprano, Muriel Harding, does not shine in the coloratura passages of "Pirates". Where Mr. Beamer hears shrillness in the chorus, I hear English vocal training, which produces a characteristic national choral sound quite different from that of North America (or of the choruses of Italy, France, Germany, Russia or Wales, for that matter.)
In summary, I find these to be very good performances--"Trial" being slightly the better of the two--in acceptable mono sound at a very attractive price.