The music of Sir Edward German (1862-1936) has been increasingly well-served in recent years: two very impressive discs from the Dutton label (CDLX 7156 and CDLX 7202) (giving us a comprehensive survey of his orchestral music, beautifully played and recorded by the BBC Concert Orchestra under John Wilson) supplement two fine Marco Polo discs from the 1990s.
For many listeners, Edward German will be known primarily as the composer of the comic opera 'Merrie England' written for the Savoy in 1902, a work which at the time seemed to herald a new and exciting operatic partnership with Basil Hood (the skilled librettist for Arthur Sullivan's last completed opera 'The Rose of Persia', 1899). Indeed, when Sullivan died in 1900 leaving his next collaboration with Hood 'The Emerald Isle' unfinished, Edward German was chosen by Richard and Helen D'Oyly Carte to complete the work which was subsequently unveiled in 1901 to considerable acclaim.
Perhaps the jewel among German's operatic scores is 'Tom Jones', first performed in Manchester in 1907 and swiftly transferred to London's Apollo Theatre. There has been a previous recording of highlights (now available on a Classics for Pleasure coupling with 'The Beggar's Opera'), but it has been a long wait for a complete recording of this masterly work. From the hugely impressive opening chorus (pitting a busily-chattering female group against their hunting spouses) to the joyous finale, German provides number after number which will remain in the memory long after the performance has finished.
In every way, this new recording from Naxos is a triumph. The soloists are consistently fine and bring their colourful characters vividly to life. The chorus and orchestra are a pleasure to listen to as well, greatly aided by the excellence of the recording in which words are crystal clear and orchestral details are exceptionally well-defined. David Russell Hulme (a leading expert in the life and music of Edward German) proves the ideal comic opera conductor with vivacious tempi and a sure handling of the tricky and elaborate Finales to Acts One and Two. Hulme has also edited the score from the composer's manuscript and various other sources in order to give us as faithful and complete a recording as possible: we are given the rare chance to hear three numbers cut during the original run and each proves a joy. Fascinating background notes and a detailed synopsis add to the quality of this release - all in all, a superb achievement which does great credit to Naxos and will hopefully lead to other similar projects.