Notes and Editorial Reviews
Ulf Schirmer, cond; Christopher Robertson (
); Nikolai Schukoff (
); Melody Moore (
); Lester Lynch (
); Bruce Rameker (
); Nathaniel Webster (
); Bavarian RCh; Munich RO
PENTATONE 5186445 (SACD: 75:34
Text and Translation)
At long last we have a recording of Gordon Getty’s 1987 comic opera,
which (I have heard) the composer likes above all his other works and after which, in fact, has named a company the PlumpJack Group, which includes a winery, restaurants, spas, and boutiques. This is, however, a concert version, in which scenes 1 and 8 of the stage work are omitted. In addition, several other scenes (3, 5–7, 9, and 10) are abridged in this version. This is a pity because we are deprived the pleasure of hearing the full work, but it is what it is.
The well-written and surprisingly atmospheric overture, which lasts more than 11 of the 75 minutes on this disc, was recorded previously by Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields on PentaTone 5186356. When I reviewed that disc roughly two years ago, I said that “If I have one reservation about it, in fact, it is that it seems to me to work better as a tone poem than an overture. It goes through several tempo and key changes in its journey, shifting its moods and story with interest and a rich palette of orchestral colors.” I can say the same about it here, except that it is then followed by
music that is in the same vein: discursive, more like sung recitative than like his songs (or “proper” operatic music), indeed like what it is, music that carries the words rather than a singfest for various voices. Thus, in a sense, it serves its purpose well as a scene-setter. We begin with scene 2, in which the older King Henry IV sings to his son Hal. Sadly, bass-baritone Christopher Robertson has an uneven wobble, but tenor Nikolai Schukoff has a splendidly bright, silvery tenor.
In the excerpt from scene 3 (“Gad’s Hill”), we hear Boy, Bardolph, and Hal cook up a scheme to “rob the thieves.” Soprano Melody Moore has a somewhat shrill and hard voice, but baritone Lester Lynch, our Falstaff, has an incredibly dark voice almost better suited for Nick Shadow or Alberich. Very quickly the scene changes to Westminster in the Jerusalem Chamber, where Henry IV converses with Clarence and the Chief Justice. I couldn’t escape the feeling here that without a visual (stage) image to accompany it, this music—though well written—conveys more atmosphere than characterization.
In fact, this is my general impression of the entire score (or, I should say, as much of it as is presented here). There is much to admire in Getty’s imaginative use of modal harmonies, the richness of his orchestration using surprisingly simple forces, and his occasional use of authentic pieces from Shakespeare’s time (Getty identifies them as the
in scene 6,
in scene 8, and
as well as
Off to War
in scene 10), but the broken-recitative style of much of the music mitigates against full enjoyment without seeing the characters onstage. In this respect, and I do not make the comparison lightly,
is a work somewhat akin to Britten’s
Death in Venice.
We finally got a recording of Britten’s masterpiece that does some justice to it without the visual images (conducted by Richard Hickox on Chandos), but the odd stop-start quality of
music is simply not given much momentum, or continuity of line, by conductor Ulf Schirmer.
And this is a shame, because some of the music is indeed quite wonderful, for instance the Hostess’s arioso (for want of a better term) in scene 5, or the imaginative segue to the two captains banging on the door and insisting that Falstaff come to court with them. Getty also manages to evoke, without copying, Britten’s mature style in the scene of Pistol’s blustering (“Pistol’s News”), who the composer compares to Yosemite Sam, and there is some truly dramatic, stabbing music in the banishment scene. I keep feeling that the orchestral music would also go better if this were a live performance. There is just too much of a stop-start, episodic feeling to it as a purely
experience. What we really need is a
DVD, and the whole score, in order to judge it more fairly. Yet in many ways, you can say the same thing of Verdi’s
so this is certainly not an indictment against Getty’s composition.
For those who enjoy Getty’s music (and I am certainly one of them), this disc may very well be indispensable to your collection. For the rest, perhaps, maybe, we’ll get the real, full
and be able to fully involve ourselves in its wonderful if discursive musical intricacies.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
Works on This Recording
Plump Jack by Gordon Getty
Melody Moore (Soprano),
Christopher Robertson (Bass),
Nikolai Schukoff (Tenor),
Nathaniel Webster (Baritone),
Lester Lynch (Baritone),
Diana Kehrig (Mezzo Soprano),
Robert Breault (Tenor),
Susanne Mentzer (Mezzo Soprano)
Munich Radio Orchestra,
Bavarian Radio Chorus
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