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F. Behrens "Frank Behrens" (Keene, NH USA)

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At Home with the Braithwaites: The Complete First Series
At Home with the Braithwaites: The Complete First Series
DVD ~ Amanda Redman
Offered by Warehouse105
Price: CDN$ 55.53
14 used & new from CDN$ 24.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hard to believe but engrossing, July 18 2004
If you ever thought you have had one of those days, picture this. A mother of three named Alison Braithwaite (Amanda Redman) is given a winning lottery ticket for her birthday by younger daughter Charlotte (Keeley Fawcett) and winds up with 38,000,000 pounds. Knowing what her family is like, she tells no one except two women (played by Lynda Bellingham and Sylvia Syms) who help her form a charitable trust to give the money away to needy people. In the meanwhile, her not too brainy husband David (Peter Davison) is trying to wriggle out of a hot affair with his secretary Elaine (Judy Holt), her older daughter Virginia (Sarah Smart) has a lesbian crush on their neighbor Megan (Julie Graham), who is having an affair with a young window washer, all the while her middle daughter Sarah (Sarah Churm) lets her drama teacher know how she feels about him but later gets pregnant by her boyfriend, at the same time the Press is sniffing around closer and closer to the true identity of the lottery winner!!!
And that is only the surface problems Alison is facing in the opening season of the smash television hit in England, "At Home With the Braithwaites." Played for shock, tears and laughs, the first season of this series is now available in a boxed set from Acorn Media (AMP 7184). My wife and I watched the two DVDs (6 episodes) on three consecutive nights and thoroughly enjoyed them. Of course, the plot was exaggerated beyond credibility-but the wish fantasy of winning a huge lottery makes it too strong to resist the story of someone who actually did win, even if that person is fictional.
Davison has the acting skill to give you a really believable idiot whose face you would love to punch; while Smart's pouting and feeling sorry for herself because of all the trouble she herself has caused makes her at the same time sympathetic (she never could get her parents to listen) and repugnant (nothing can excuse her actions, only explain them). Don't you agree that the British actors are good at creating such characters that are at the same time typical and yet completely individual?
This is the kind of series you invite friends over to see and have a game of predicting what new problems will arise in the next episode. And believe me, it takes great acting to make all of this palatable. And if you any of you recognize your own problems in all this, it is because keeping big secrets to yourself can be dangerous to your health.
The only bonus features are some selective film biographies of the main characters. Also, although the original telecasts are in 16:9 ratio, the company that supplies Acorn Media has told them only the full-screen version of the Season 1 is available. That accounts for some awkward compositions in some shot.

The Yeomen of the Guard
The Yeomen of the Guard
Price: CDN$ 24.91
16 used & new from CDN$ 9.98

4.0 out of 5 stars Strangely cut but of historical value, June 21 2004
This review is from: The Yeomen of the Guard (Audio CD)
It took only 54 years for the 1950 recording of Gilbert & Sullivan's "The Yeomen of the Guard" to appear on a CD at a budget price (two or three other labels had it at a quite expensive one). But now my favorite budget-priced company, Naxos of America, has included it in their Great Operetta Recordings series along with the so-called Martyn Green offerings of "HMS Pinafore," "The Mikado," "The Pirates of Penzance," "Patience," "Iolanthe," and "The Gondoliers." (This leaves only "Ruddigore" with Martyn Green and "Princess Ida" and "The Sorcerer" without him-and I do wish they would hurry.) All are conducted by G&S expert Isidore Godfrey.
Green is well known by G&S fans as the legendary comic lead with the D'Oyly Carte Company for many years and his recordings are treasured by many.
This particular Naxos set (8.110293-94) sits on two CDs, the first holding Act I and the second Act II with 9 wonderful little G&S-for-orchestra selections from 1935. "The Yeomen of the Guard" itself is (as all in the series were back then) without dialogue and it is not quite musically complete. It is missing the comic duet "Rapture, rapture" in Act II and two stanzas from the Act I finale, for no better reason than that the D'Oyly Carte Company had dropped them from its productions back then. What a shame.
The cast is adequate to quite good. Green is outstanding as a morose Jack Point who (on the stage at least) actually dies at the end. The bottomless basso of Richard Watson is just right for the idiotic Shadbolt, but the gorgeous mezzo of Ann Drummond-Grant is a bit too mature-sounding for "little Phoebe." Tenor Leonard Osborn has his usual vocal troubles and should have yielded to the then upcoming tenor Neville Griffiths, who here has the tiny role of Leonard Meryll.
D'Oyly Carte veteran Darrel Fancourt's voice had become a little leathery, but his Sgt. Meryll is full of character, making the loss of the duet even more unforgivable.
So this is really for G&S addicts, for whom this is of great historical interest, and for groups who plan to do "Yeomen" and want a good idea of the traditional delivery.

The Politician's Wife
The Politician's Wife
DVD ~ Juliet Stevenson
Offered by M and N Media Canada
Price: CDN$ 57.11
10 used & new from CDN$ 9.62

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Political Morality Tale for All Times, June 1 2004
This review is from: The Politician's Wife (DVD)
This is one of the great revenge stories of all times. Paula Milne has written the script to a three-part miniseries seen not too long ago on Masterpiece Theatre called "The Politician's Wife." The Minister for Family (of all people) is caught in a love nest scandal. And like a certain President's wife of recent memory, his spouse is expected by The Party to stand behind him. Well, she does-and in the most original way possible. As all the Old Boys rally behind this despicable lowlife, the wife uses that very system of disinformation to get back a bit of her own. Just how she does it and with what results I refuse to say, because I want you to savor this jaundiced view of inner-party workings and how they destroy whatever traces of humanity those concerned might have had once.
Well, this show is now yours for the viewing on an Acorn Media DVD (AMP 7117), and I suggest you grab it. It is due to appear on July 6, 2004; but I wanted to give you lots of warning.
The disgusting conservative minister is played to perfection by Trevor Eve, while the equally evil (but just possibly unwitting bait in the trap) femme fatale is made very believable by Minnie Driver. But the show belongs to Juliet Stevenson as the wife who does what is considered (by men, of course) to be her duty in the most beautiful Iago-like way. My favorite part is the speech she gives to the wives of other conservative politicians, in which she thanks them sincerely for showing her that personal morality and feelings and family and true devotion must all be put aside for the sake of The Party. This Swiftian moment is nearly matched later when she tells someone about how her husband is such an accomplished liar that he has started to believe his own lies-as long as he is still speaking them. Do governments ever really change?
In fact, the only sympathetic characters other than the wife (and that is a matter of opinion) are the two children. All the other male characters are smiling, foul Party-beings to whom "conservative" means nothing more than conserving their power and "truth" means nothing more than the most effective lie that will serve their turn.
The three episodes have a total running time of 187 minutes and every minute is riveting. True to what television executives think the public wants, we get our usual quota of nipple shots (why do these actresses put up with this?) and the F-count is under 10. (Remember when they had to get special permission to say Damn at the end of "Gone With the Wind"?)
There are some film-biogs at the end and an interesting essay by the author that you will have to read off the screen. But the play itself is top-notch. Again, grab this one.

This Was Radio
This Was Radio
by Ronald Lackman
Edition: Audio Cassette
9 used & new from CDN$ 9.65

4.0 out of 5 stars Good for what is sets out to do, May 31 2004
This review is from: This Was Radio (Audio Cassette)
In the past, I have reviewed many a set of old-time radio show sets from Radio Spirits but only one or two books about that subject. I noticed in the Radio Spirits catalogue a book called "This Was Radio," became interested, got a copy, and was favorably impressed enough to want to tell you about it.
Measuring about 14 1/4" long and 11 1/4" high, this attractive volume of only 57 pages (plus an index) gives a very nice introduction to what radio was all about in the pre-television days and provides plenty of pictures to let you know what the stars looked like. Now the important word is "introduction." I must make it clear that you will have to turn to other books for fuller details; but author Ronald Lackmann does what he set out to do very well. He gives you an outline, not a full history, of that phenomenon that was part of so many lives in my generation.
The contents are divided like this. Chapter 1: The Beginning, 2: Mystery, adventure, horror, suspense, westerns, 3: Comedy, 4: Music programs, 5: Popular children's programming, 6: Daytime programming for the ladies, 7: Panel, quiz and talk shows, 8: Radio news brings World War II home, 9: Unforgettable radio moments, 10: The golden age of radio lives on.
Just as important are the two CDs that accompany the text, letting you hear the actual sounds of many of the programs mentioned in the text and many important moments from our history such as the Hindenburg disaster and Churchill's "Finest Hour" speech. Among the less important but still memorable selections are the sketch that got Mae West banned from radio and the voices of Marilyn Monroe and Marlin Brando.
But I must register a strong reprimand to whoever gave the first CD only two tracks and the second one only four. So while the book gives a complete list of the selections on the discs, you would have a very hard time locating any given one of them-which makes their classroom value nearly nil. Perhaps this can be remedied (although I doubt it) and replacement CDs sent to purchasers.
Nevertheless, the discs are fine if you play them straight through; and the text and pictures are well worth the price.

Isaac Albeniz - Merlin / Wilson-Johnson, Skelton, Marton, Vaness, Odena, Eusebio (Teatro Real Madrid 2004) [Import]
Isaac Albeniz - Merlin / Wilson-Johnson, Skelton, Marton, Vaness, Odena, Eusebio (Teatro Real Madrid 2004) [Import]
DVD ~ Eva Marton
Price: CDN$ 54.99
19 used & new from CDN$ 24.87

4.0 out of 5 stars A good looking production but you will need the subtitles, May 20 2004
Back in the last decade of the 1800s, a rich man's son named Francis Burdett Money-Coutts (Coutts is mentioned in "The Gondoliers" as bankers) decided to write the librettos to a trilogy that would do for England what Wagner's Ring cycle had done for Germany. He chose the story of King Arthur and wrote the librettos for "Merlin," "Lancelot" and "Guenevere." The composer who accepted the challenge was Isaac Albeniz, known mostly today for his piano music and only recently given respectful attention by Spanish musicologists.
Well, the music for the latter two is still lost, but conductor Jose de Eusebio made it the task of many years to restore "Merlin" and at long last we have a DVD recording on the BBC Opus Arte label (OA 0888 D) of a complete performance given at the Teatro Real de Madrid.
First of all, the text is in English, but you will understand very little of it without using the subtitle feature (in English, German, Spanish, or French). Sopranos are notoriously difficult to understand in any language (so much do they love vowels at the often total expense of consonants), and casting Eva Marton as Morgan le Fey makes even her vowels fairly incomprehensible. The Nivian of Carol Vaness is a touch better.
As often happens, the men fare better on the enunciation side. David Wilson-Johnson (Merlin) and Stuart Skelton (Arthur) are not exactly exemplary, but at least half the words come across.

Several of the choruses are off-stage, so understanding the words is out of the question; those choruses sung onstage are little better. Still the singing is of a high quality, so back to the subtitles!
On the acting side, there is little to recommend. Nowhere do I see any depth of characterization; but these are standard mythological and legendary (yes, there is a difference) creatures. Angel Odena plays the evil Mordred looking too much like *** of the Monty Python group in the Spanish Inquisition sketch to elicit anything but a smile; but Vaness nearly makes a believable character as the Ariel-like slave of Merlin who turns to Morgan for her freedom. Marton's acting is of silent-film vintage.
Interestingly, the characters of Lancelot and Guenevere show up only as dancers in this opera.
The sets and costumes are minimal and symbolic, the costumes fetching. Much of the opera is given over to ballet and the opening to Act III is stunning. Most of the solo singing is of the post-Wagner declamation genre but without the wonderful use of leitmotif that Wagner used as the basis of his scores. Only in a chorus or two will you find any melody. But all in all, with the video aspect, the music takes on a timeless quality that seems right for the action on stage.
For once, some of the bonus material is very informative, namely the interview with the conductor concerning the work, Albeniz, and the problems of reconstructing the music. What Marton and Wilson-Johnson have to say is of less interest.
Two serious complaints. How many "live" performance DVDs must be issued before some engineer copes with the problem of acoustically dead spots on stage? And when will so many editors of the program notes stop using white print against grey textured backgrounds? I found the Merlin booklet practically unreadable and sent yet another e-mail to BBC about this. They never do answer.
On two DVD discs, the opera runs about 155 minutes. The picture is wide screen (16:9 ratio)

Vol. 1-Sound of Vaudeville
Vol. 1-Sound of Vaudeville
Offered by importcds__
Price: CDN$ 18.84
10 used & new from CDN$ 18.83

5.0 out of 5 stars Of great historical importance--and lots of fun too, May 4 2004
Up to a few days ago, the name Eddie Morton meant nothing to me. The only reason I dearly wanted a copy of a CD featuring this singer was the subtitle: "Eddie Morton: the Sound of Vaudeville, Vol. 1" on the Archeophone label. This company has been issuing ancient recordings of inestimable historical value, three of which I have already reviewed here and in other papers.

The booklet that comes in the jewel case is an exemplary one, giving all the important facts about the life and times of this once well known comic singer and enough pictures to give a feeling of what vaudeville was like. (Having been born in 1936, I just missed out on catching the tail end of this theatrical form that was murdered by radio and the film.)
This 79-minute CD contains 28 recordings made by Morton from 1907 to 1910. Some of the titles, which speak eloquently about the kind of songs you will hear, are "The Peach That Tastes the Sweetest Hangs the Highest on the Tree," "The Right Church but the Wrong Pew" (two recordings), "I'd Rather Be a Minstrel Man than a Multi-Millionaire," and "The Party That Wrote 'Home Sweet Home' Never Was a Married Man"!
The sound is excellent considering the vintage, Morton's enunciation very good indeed, and the whole thing a lot of fun. But there is a warning at the bottom of the back cover, "Contains Racially Derogatory Language." The booklet elaborates thus: "Archeophone believes that if we neglect the offensive parts of our history, we will fail to learn from it." I see their point. Others might not.

Midsomer Murders: Set Three
Midsomer Murders: Set Three
DVD ~ John Nettles
Offered by M and N Media Canada
Price: CDN$ 97.70
18 used & new from CDN$ 19.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Complex plots and enjoyable viewing, March 14 2004
This review is from: Midsomer Murders: Set Three (DVD)
Many of you might have watched "Midsomer Murders" over the commercial-ridden A&E channel and have joined millions on both sides of the Atlantic in becoming devoted fans. For you, good news. Acorn Media has issued the third set that includes five more episodes in boxed sets of 5 DVDs.
Briefly, in the first set, "Death's Shadow" deals with several weird murders in Badger's Drift, "Strangler's Wood" with the seeming renewal of serial killings after many years, "Blood Will Out" with the effect of nomadic groups on local problems, and "Beyond the Grave" (the most gothic of the four) with ghostly doings in a museum.
In the second, we have "Dead Man's Eleven" dealing with a cricket bat as a murder weapon and a cricket game as the scene of yet another murder; "Death of a Stranger" dealing with fox hunting, strange tramps, Oscar Wilde, and murder; "Blue Herrings" dealing with suspicious deaths in a home for the elderly; and "Judgement Day" dealing with a "perfect" village trying to win an award as the bodies pile up.
In this latest set, "Garden of Death" involves local outrage at the commercialization of a local treasure; "Destroying Angel" is about murders concerning a hotel; "The Electric Vendetta" centers around those who do and do not believe in UFOs; "Who Killed Cock Robin" is about a love affair, while "Dark Autumn" is about multiple love affairs.
In a former review, I said that I found the first two series just a little less striking, a little more low-key, than those I have raved about in the Wimsey, Poirot and Miss Marple series. I added that "Midsomer Murders" seems a recycling of the Inspector Morse series but without that character's idiosyncrasies. But by now, I am pretty hooked on the show and complain only about extremely complex plots that will make you want to view them a second time. But that is the point in owning recordings.
I should interject here that some television series are rich and enjoyable enough to deserve repeated viewings. Poirot for its humor and period settings, Marple for its characters, Wimsey for all three of those elements, and now "Midsomer Murders."
John Nettles plays Detective Chief Inspector Barnaby with a droll sense of humor that is most appealing and most of his ongoing problems stem from his job's keeping him away from his lovely wife (Jane Wymark) and daughter (Laura Howard). His sidekick, Sergeant Troy (Daniel Casey) is simply Barnaby's sidekick but there is a humorous interplay between them. Notice that Inspector Morse's assistant is also named Troy.
And it is very good to see that gorgeous English scenery with its old inns and the like. Oh yes, and no foul language, but some unnecessary nudity of the "we may do it so we must do it" variety adds nothing to the quality of the show.

Ovid's Art of Love: Classic Rules of Seduction
Ovid's Art of Love: Classic Rules of Seduction
by Jack Tr Shapiro
Edition: Audio Cassette
7 used & new from CDN$ 91.60

5.0 out of 5 stars Makes modern sex guides obsolete, March 4 2004
How many of you recall how, back in the 1970s, the Supreme Court decided that our founding fathers really meant freedom of the press and of speech to include the most pornographic materials on news stands for children to see and purchase. Remember all those sex manuals that suddenly proliferated: The Sensuous This and That, Where to Pick Up Men/Women and What To Do With Them Later? Well, back around the first century CE a chap named Ovid had anticipated them all with his "Art of Love." And that was literally in the Year 1.
Augustus, head of one of the most corrupt empires ever, went on a morality kick, had the book banned, and sent Ovid into exile. In fact, the United States also tried to keep the book out of this country up to 1960. And now in 2004 you can hear it read with perfect enunciation and seriousness by Martin Jarvis on two Audio Partners tapes (21050).
The first part is addressed to the men, the second (to keep things fair, Ovid explains) to the women. Now many people confuse his purpose just as they do that of Machiavelli in "The Prince." Neither man is advocating what he writes as a way of life. He is merely describing how humans have always acted and saying that if you wish to do these things, you might as well do them right. (I know some will disagree with me when it comes to Ovid, but to each his own opinion.)
Using metaphors drawn from chariot racing, navigating, and mythical tales, Ovid describes in great details where to meet the opposite sex, how to attract them, how to keep them interested when out of bed, and how to act when in bed. Yes, being a man, he tends to be very patronizing when discussing female reactions in the men's section; but he is quite sympathetic to women when addressing them in the second section.
Definitely not to be used for junior high school book reports, this reading will not only amuse you and surprise you (my gosh, it's so modern!) but perhaps also give you a deeper insight from a man who did it all about 2000 years ago.

Wagner: Das Rheingold - Zagrosek [Import]
Wagner: Das Rheingold - Zagrosek [Import]
DVD ~ Wagner
Offered by Classical Music Superstore
Price: CDN$ 29.57
12 used & new from CDN$ 19.99

2.0 out of 5 stars You had better be familiar with the original, Feb. 22 2004
Maybe I am too picky, too traditional. One of the critics for a much-respected magazine viewed the EuroArts CD of the 2002 production by the Staatsoper Stuttgart of Wagner's "Das Rheingold" (20 5206 9 DVUS OPRDNR) and loved it. I just finished viewing it and found myself increasingly annoyed as it unfolded under a director who chose to ignore most of what the characters were singing in his modern-dress (how original!) setting of this epic from ancient Iceland and medieval Germany.
The concept was to place all the action in a single set, the lobby of a sanitarium-or possibly an insane asylum, and I would vote for the latter-with a large fountain in the middle which is supposed to be the Rhine. Wotan (Wolfgang Probst) and his wife (Michaela Schuster) are dressed like CEOs, the giants (Roland Bracht and Phillip Ens) are normal-sized contractors with briefcases, the fire god Loge (Robert Kunzli) is a slightly overweight person in no particular costume at all, and the three Rhinemaidens (Catrione Smith, Maria Theresa Ulrich and Margarete Joswig) hang around the lobby dressed in attractive black blouses and slacks and join in the family doings when they should be offstage under water.
Much mention is made of a helmet that is only a mirror in this production (the director unconvincingly explains why in the program notes), of a Valhalla that is nowhere in sight, of Wotan's spear that is also absent, and of piles of gold that are represented by a single sheet of chain mail. When the giants refer to poles around the goddess Freia (Helga Ros Indridadottir), there are none at all; and although she is standing in full view, they complain that she is not yet entirely hidden. It is all very silly-but the director got the audience's approval during curtain calls.
Any do-it-yourselfer would have a hammer larger than the one brandished by Donner (Motti Kaston) and his powerful invocation to the clouds is considerably reduced by the commonplace costume he is given. You can look in vain for the wretched Nibelungs that Albrech is terrorizing (an economy move?) and his transformations into dragon and frog are described in the lyrics but the man remains the same. A Rheingold without magic indeed.
The singing is quite good, except for Probst's inability to control his powerful baritone. He also, I am sorry to say, is physically the least noble Wotan I have ever seen; and he does not help things with that ugly habit of singing out of the side of his mouth.
The best of them all is the Alberich of Esa Ruuttunen. Theoretically the villain of the story, his sincere acting and dramatic vocalizing makes him more sympathetic than any of the other characters. That is, with the possible exception of Freia, who is directed actually to lament the death of the giant who professed to love her. This is the only really interesting concept in this production.
I give credit to conductor Lothar Zagrosek for keeping the score moving at a dramatic clip. But to me the unforgivable happens yet again, as it has on so many other video opera discs and tapes. There is one spot on the actors' stage left that is acoustically dead. Sure enough, that is where they tie up Alberich after his capture, so that his lines are very hard to hear-and they are important lines too. Can't the engineers catch this and rectify it before the disc is released for sale? Is there NO quality control?
This is the start of a Ring Cycle that was given over to four different directors. Maybe one of the other three will be truly imaginative and pay some attention to the text.
The running time is 152 minutes, the picture is wide screen (16:9 ratio), and the subtitles are in English, German, French, Spanish, and Italian.

Offered by thebookcommunity_ca
Price: CDN$ 310.74
6 used & new from CDN$ 92.70

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An operatic approach to G&S, Jan. 31 2004
This review is from: Operettas (Audio CD)
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, as soon as the copyright on Gilbert's lyrics expired, EMI began to issue what could have been the complete series of Gilbert & Sullivan collaborations but never quite finished. Of the 14 operettas from "Thespis" to "The Grand Duke," only 9 found their way into the EMI series. In order of composition rather than recordings, they were "Trial by Jury," "HMS Pinafore," "The Pirates of Penzance," "Patience," "Iolanthe," "The Mikado," "Ruddigore," "The Yeomen of the Guard," and "The Gondoliers."
They are all played by the Pro Arte Orchestra under the baton of veteran G&S conductor Sir Malcolm Sargent (who conducted most of the RCA Victor/HMV electric recordings) and feature the soloists and chorus of the Glyndebourne Festival. The only voice familiar to devotees of the earlier recordings is that of George Baker, who had assumed most of the comic roles on many an acoustic and electric recording, although he himself had never appeared in any of those roles on a stage.
Once the days of the mono LP were over, the Decca (overseas) and London (over here) labels were busily issuing stereo versions with D'Oyly Carte casts while EMI was giving them stiff competition with their Glyndebourne people. While the D'Oyly Carte singers were not quite up to their rivals vocally, several of their recordings included the dialogue, which was a bane to some, a blessing to others. However, now that both companies have reissued their complete Gilbert & Sullivan sets in a budget format, you can judge for yourselves which is superior. But it is of the EMI set that I wish to comment here.
It comes in a box of 16 CDs, arranged in the order of composition, except for "Trial by Jury" which follows rather than precedes "Pinafore" as part of the same set. My only quarrel with the series as a whole is the lack of a good basso profundo, especially for the role of Pooh-Bah. Using opera star Geraint Evans as Ko-Ko, Jack Point, and the Duke of Plaza-Toro was not a good idea, since he does not have that lightness of voice and sparkle the roles require. But George Baker takes over in the other comic leads; and it is difficult to believe that this man had made a "Mikado" recording back in 1917 and was still going strong. Oh, of course, now and then the patter songs take their toll. But Baker is a G&S legend and I am one of the thousands who love him.
The leading tenor (in 7 of the 9 recordings) is Richard Lewis, whose voice may not be as characterful as some of the D'Oyly Carte tenors of old but is beautiful to hear. The leading soprano is Elsie Morison, who can tackle the coloratura of Josephine ("Pinafore") and Mabel ("Pirates") with no trouble. Sounding a little too mature, perhaps, for some of the other roles, her vocalizing more than makes up for it. Now remember that most of these singers have long operatic backgrounds and approach Sullivan's music in that mode.
When the EMI LPs were transferred to CDs, the extra time each disc could carry called for several "fillers" or what is now called "bonus" tracks. So as an added inducement to purchase this set, you will also hear Sullivan's symphonic alone in his overtures to three of the works not included, "Overture in C," "Symphony in E," "Overture di Ballo," incidental music to "The Tempest" and to "The Merchant of Venice," and the "Cello Concerto in D." They are taken from more recent recordings with different orchestras and conductors.
The booklet gives all the casts and tracking, along with synopses cued to the tracks. However, newcomers are advised to find a good edition of the plays so they can follow the words and perhaps pause between songs to read the equally clever dialogue as a group entertainment.
So even if you own other recordings of these immensely popular works, I am sure you will enjoy this EMI set very much indeed. And yes, some of the sets are still available separately in their individual jewel cases.

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