Pickwick (Burnand & Solomon);  Cups and Saucers (George Grossmith)  (Retrospect Opera RO 002)
Item# OP3229
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Pickwick (Burnand & Solomon);  Cups and Saucers (George Grossmith)  (Retrospect Opera RO 002)
OP3229. PICKWICK (Burnand & Solomon), w. Stephen Higgins Cond. Simon Butteriss, Gaynor Keeble, Toby Stafford & Alessandro MacKinnon; CUPS AND SAUCERS (George Grossmith), w. Stephen Higgins Cond. Simon Butteriss & Gaynor Keeble. (England) Retrospect Opera RO 002, recorded 2016, London, [First Recordings], w.36pp booklet, full libretto, and essays by David Chandler, Kurt Gänzl & Simon Butteriss, in gatefold jacket. - 5070000095318


“‘Burnand and Solomon’ doesn’t trip off the tongue quite as mellifluously or as automatically as Gilbert and Sullivan but this disc tells a tale of their collaboration on PICKWICK, a Dramatic Cantata – as was TRIAL BY JURY – that premiered in 1889. Francis Burnand (1836-1917), a habitual employer of the pun, was editor of PUNCH and had collaborated with Sullivan on COX AND BOX and THE CONTRABANDISTA. He had long theatrical experience and doubtless saw working with Solomon as an opportunity to extend the fame he had won as librettist.

Edward ‘Teddy’ Solomon, a ‘Jewish Don Juan’ according to a contemporary female critic, lived a life of almost irrepressible sexual activity, if his biography is anything to go by. It’s a miracle he ever found time to compose at all. Like another Solomon – not the Biblical one but Solomon Grundy – he lived life at an accelerated pace. He married at eighteen, had a child at nineteen and went through a succession of (five) wives, toured America, churned out operetta after operetta, was called on by D’Oyly Carte to compose for the Savoy, before dying at 39 of, so it’s said, typhoid. Even reading about his life is to court exhaustion.

PICKWICK was one in a line of Dickens-inspired musical works. It is largely all-sung and has a relatively smaller quotient of spoken dialogue than Burnand’s other operettas. The original orchestral score is lost but a Boosey piano version was published. There were two editions and of these the first edition, faithful to the original production (the second edition was apparently simplified and reordered) has been followed.

At the keyboard is Stephen Higgins who supports and directs so well the singing company of four. The libretto is droll, witty and pun-laden in places and the music is avuncular, genial and occasionally stirring. It sits nicely in the mould of G&S operettas, though for all his musical diligence Solomon never quite manages to rise to the crest of a truly memorable song. There are songs, duets and trios, and much admirable scene setting and character building. Some of the finest moments reside in moments such as the music of the ‘Pickwickian Symphony’ where the hero’s appearance is accompanied by music of a deliciously pomposo nature. That said, surely it was a theatrical miscalculation for Burnand to have assigned three songs in a row to Pickwick. It tends to impede the forward development of the plot. That said there are delightful things here, such as the patter of ‘The Happy Valley’, where Simon Butteriss has a lot of fun with word endings and vowel sounds, the romantic reverie enshrined in’ Is it a Fairy Vision’, sung very well by Gaynor Keeble, as well as the parlando wit throughout. The contribution here of Toby Stafford-Allen as The Baker should on no account be overlooked, nor should the treble Alessandro MacKinnon.

There is a bonus in the form of George Grosssmith’s CUPS AND SAUCERS. Before he became an esteemed G&S performer Grossmith toured with the novelist Florence Marryatt performing sketches and recitations, an entertainment called ENTRE NOUS. The finale was a miniature opera, the ‘Satirical Musical Sketch’, called CUPS AND SAUCERS and that’s what is performed in this recording, a two-hander for Butteriss and Keeble. With very slightly abridged spoken dialogue this performance preserves the merriment and sentiment of the music, with witty use of pauses, a sentimental farewell song, and some rather Schumannesque piano writing here and there. Despite the large amount of dialogue remaining, which may tire unsympathetic listeners, this is another resonant slice of musical life of the time.

The disc is stylishly presented in a gatefold with a most attractive and informative booklet containing full texts. It’s a pleasure to see so barely known a work as PICKWICK promoted with such care and joie de vivre.”

- Jonathan Woolf, MusicWebInternational

“Edward Solomon was born in 1855 in London; he learned to play the piano from his father, a music hall pianist, conductor and composer. He was an extremely busy musician, spotting opportunities, and composing where and when needed. He worked a good deal with Pot Stephens, producing a number of lightweight, popular theatre pieces, but worked with others too. PICKWICK wasn’t the only piece he wrote with Burnand - they also wrote DOMESTIC ECONOMY and THE TIGER, though this last one was not a success.

His first wife was 15 when they married (their daughter was born the same year), and he later married again, without going to the bother of divorcing his first wife. Once his second wife learned of the first, she divorced him; later so did his first wife, and he married a third time. He accumulated five wives in all, and several children. Solomon packed a good deal into a short life - he died of typhoid fever in 1895, aged just 39.

Sir Francis Cowley Burnand - usually known simply as F. C. Burnand - was born in London in 1836. He was a prolific playwright, and a leading contributor to the magazine PUNCH. Even in his teens, he was involved in the theatre, and was a founder member of the Cambridge University Amateur Dramatic Club (which still exists today). His family pressured him into joining the priesthood, where he blotted his copybook by leaving the Anglican church, and converting to Catholicism. Fortunately, his father bowed to the inevitable and gave him his blessing to leave a religious life behind and go into the theatre.”


“Grossmith's first role in a musical was at the age of 18 in a small comic rôle in his father's collaboration with W. S. Gilbert, HASTE TO THE WEDDING. He next appeared in several small comic rôles, including in THE BARONESS (1892). Grossmith's breakthrough came in MOROCCO BOUND (1893), where he made the most of the small rôle of Sir Percy Pimpleton by adding ad-libbed sight and word gags, becoming an audience favourite and establishing his style of playing ‘dude’ roles. This was followed by appearances in GO-BANG (1894 as Augustus Fitzpoop) and in George Edwardes's production of A GAIETY GIRL (1893 as Major Barclay). He also played in PICK-ME-UP at the Trafalgar Square Theatre in 1894 with Jessie Bond and Letty Lind. Edwardes then hired Grossmith to create the part of Bertie Boyd in the hit musical THE SHOP GIRL (1894). The 21-year-old actor wrote the lyrics to his character's hit song ‘Beautiful, bountiful Bertie’, which he popularised in both London and New York.

Grossmith left the musical stage for about three years, appearing in straight comedies, but he returned in 1898 to take over in the musical LITTLE MISS NOBODY and then as Mark Antony in the burlesque, GREAT CAESAR (1899), which Grossmith had written with Paul Rubens. The piece was not successful, but he wrote another (also unsuccessful piece), THE GAY PRETENDERS (1900), in which he included rôles for both himself and his famous father, that played at the Globe Theatre with a cast also including John Coates, Frank Wyatt, Letty Lind and Richard Temple. Grossmith then returned to Edwardes' company as leading comedian, touring in Kitty Grey, and then starred in the Gaiety Theatre's hit THE TOREADOR (1901). Grossmith supplied some of his own lyrics but scored his biggest hit with Rubens' song ‘Everybody's Awfully Good to Me’. He then played in THE SCHOOL GIRL (1903) and subsequently toured America in the piece, but he mostly remained at the Gaiety for the next dozen years, starring in a number of hits and becoming one of the biggest stars of the Edwardian era. His rôles in these hits included The Hon. Guy Scrymgeour in THE ORCHID (1903), Gustave Babori in THE SPRING CHICKEN (1905), Genie of The Lamp in THE NEW ALADDIN (1906), Otto, the prince, in THE GIRLS OF GOTTENBERG (1907), Hughie in OUR MISS GIBBS (1909), Auberon Blowand in PEGGY (1911) and Lord Bicester in THE SUNSHINE GIRL (1912). He often performed together with diminutive comic Edmund Payne.

Grossmith co-wrote the successful HAVANA (1908), while he moved to another Edwardes theatre to play Count Lothar in A WALTZ DREAM. Grossmith was given writing credits for some of the Gaiety pieces, usually adaptations from French comedies (like THE SPRING CHICKEN) or collaborations with other writers (such as THE GIRLS OF GOTTENBERG), but he wrote the libretto to PEGGY on his own. His contributions in collaborative pieces were primarily to add in jokes. He adapted THE DOLLAR PRINCESS (1909) for America (but not London) and also co-wrote some of London's earliest ‘revues’ including the ROGUES AND VAGABONDS, VENUS, OH! INDEED, Empire Theatre's HULLO (LONDON! (1910), EVERYBODY'S DOING IT, KILL THAT FLY!, EIGHT-PENCE A MILE, and NOT LIKELY. In addition to his writing and performing, he sometimes directed these musicals and revues.

In 1913, Grossmith starred in THE GIRL ON THE FILM first in London and then in New York, where he joined with Edward Laurillard, who had earlier produced his musical THE LOVE BIRDS, to produce plays and musicals. Grossmith established himself as a major producer with Laurillard, bringing POTASH AND PERLMUTTER, by Montague Glass, to London in 1914 for a long run at the Queen's Theatre. They then produced the successful TONIGHT'S THE NIGHT, based on the farce PINK DOMINOES, first at the Shubert Theatre in New York in 1914 and then moved it to the Gaiety Theatre, London in 1915. Back at the Gaiety Theatre, Grossmith wrote, produced and starred in the hit in THEODORE & CO (1916), based on a French comedy. Edwardes had died in 1915, however, and Grossmith was dissatisfied with the offer of the new management under Alfred Butt and Robert Evett, the executor of Edwardes' estate, and so he left the Gaiety and produced three successes, MR MANHATTAN, ARLETTE (1917), and YES, UNCLE! (1917) elsewhere. His OH! JOY (the British adaptation of OH, BOY!, 1917) was also successful. He also wrote the tremendously successful revue series, THE BING BOYS ARE HERE (1916), THE BING BOYS ARE THERE (1917) and THE BING BOYS ON BROADWAY (1918). Grossmith fitted his work on all these productions around his naval service in World War I.

Grossmith and Laurillard built their own theatre, the Winter Garden, on the site of an old music-hall in Drury Lane. They opened the theatre in 1919 with Grossmith and Leslie Henson starring in KISSING TIME (1919, with a star-studded cast, a book by P. G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton and music by Ivan Caryll), followed by A NIGHT OUT (1920). Grossmith and Laurillard also became managers of the Apollo Theatre in 1920 (they had produced THE ONLY GIRL there in 1916 and TILLY OF BLOOMSBURY there in 1919). But expanding their operation caused Grossmith and Laurillard to end their partnership, with Grossmith retaining control of the Winter Garden. Grossmith partnered with Edwardes' former associate, Pat Malone, to produce a series of mostly adaptations of imported shows at the Winter Garden between 1920 and 1926: SALLY (1921), THE CABARET GIRL (1922, with book by Wodehouse and music by Jerome Kern), THE BEAUTY PRIZE (1923, with Wodehouse and Kern), a revival of TONIGHT'S THE NIGHT (1923), PRIMROSE (1924, with music by George Gershwin), TELL ME MORE (1925, with words by Thompson and music by George Gershwin) and KID BOOTS (1926 with music by Harry Tierney), many of them featuring Leslie Henson. Grossmith co-wrote some of the Winter Garden pieces, directed many of his own productions and starred in several, notably as Otis in SALLY. Several of the later productions lost money, and Grossmith and Malone ended the partnership.

Grossmith also co-produced Oscar Asche's conception of EASTWARD HO! (1919), BABY BUNTING (both in 1919) and FAUST ON TOAST (1921) at other theatres during this period. At the same time, in the early 1920s, while appearing less frequently in his own Winter Garden shows, he continued to appear in other producers' shows, including THE NAUGHTY PRINCESS (1920) and as Billy Early in Joe Waller and Herbert Clayton's original hit British production of NO, NO, NANETTE (1925). Around this time, Grossmith also worked as a programme advisor to the BBC, particular involved in comedy programming. He also negotiated on behalf of the BBC with theatre managers over their boycott on songs from plays, when provincial theatre managers had threatened to cancel tour contracts if excerpts from the new plays had already been broadcast by the BBC.

After 1926, Grossmith stopped producing, but he continued to perform, playing King Christian in Albert Szirmai's PRINCESS CHARMING (1926) for producer Robert Courtneidge in New York, and Britain in THE FIVE O'CLOCK GIRL and LADY MARY (1928). In New York in 1930, and later in London (where it flopped), he starred in Ralph Benatzky's MY SISTER AND I (aka MEET MY SISTER). He also appeared in at least ten films for London Film Productions Ltd. in the 1930s. In 1930, he appeared in a 20th Century Fox film, ARE YOU THERE?

In 1931-1932, Grossmith was appointed managing director of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, producing THE LAND OF SMILES and CAVALCADE, but he resigned in 1932 to devote himself to cinema. In the 1930s, Grossmith appeared in (and wrote the screenplay, in two cases, for) a number of films. In 1933, he played Touchstone in a production of AS YOU LIKE IT in the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park. Also in 1933, he wrote a memoir called G. G.”

- Z. D. Akron