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Macfarren: Robin Hood Double CD

3.8 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Audio CD, Double CD, 26 Sep 2011
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Product details

  • Conductor: Ronald Corp
  • Composer: George Alexander MacFarren
  • Audio CD (26 Sept. 2011)
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Format: Double CD
  • Label: Naxos
  • ASIN: B005KNODNM
  • Other Editions: Audio CD
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 104,898 in CDs & Vinyl (See Top 100 in CDs & Vinyl)
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Product description

Product Description

George Macfarren was considered by many of his contemporaries as the greatest British dramatic opera composer since Purcell. Described by Edward J Dent as very full of good fun and on the way to Sullivan, Robin Hood is Macfarrens masterpiece, one of an impressive roster of now neglected mid-nineteenthcentury British operas, notable for its fine ensemble scenes, witty motifs, and deft, imaginative orchestration. Victorian Operas recording of Wallaces Lurline (8.660293-94) was widely admired: the opera and the performance are both a delight. (American Record Guide)

Review

Nicky Spence carries (Robin)off with cheerful style.Under Ronald Corp,the orchestra reveals a bright,attractive piece. Performance **** Recording **** --BBC Music Magazine,Christmas'11

Critic's Choice 2011 --Gramophone,Dec'11

Nicky Spence is splendid as Robin Hood;vigorous in the ballad 'Englishmen by birth',he is eloquent in the beautiful 'My own,my guiding star'.Ronald Corp clearly love this music;and if there's a touch of am-dram about the chorus,well it's all part of the fun. --Gramophone,Jan'12

The solo singing is admirably led by Nicky Spence, exhilarating not only in his ballads 'Englishmen' and 'Thy guiding light' but also in the compelling prison scene.What ultimately remains, though, is amazement that a key work in British operatic history,lost to audiences for over a century, can be disinterred and recorded to such a high overall standard with limited resources.Tribute is thus due not only to conductor Ronald Corp but also to the indefatigable guiding lights of Victorian Opera. --Opera,Mar'12

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Format: Audio CD
All credit to Naxos for recording this 'romantic English opera' from 1860; it is always interesting to hear these neglected pieces and form one's own opinion. This one is quite long (two discs of nearly 80 minutes each), and it would be good to be able to report that it is worth the trouble; but really there is very little distinctive music here, and some of the items are the sort of thing that gave 'Victorian music' a bad name (such as the faintly embarrassing part song in Act III scene 2).

Maybe with more able advocacy this would have come up better, but the general standard of performance is not much above semi-professional. The recording is clear and some of the singing and orchestral playing is fine; but several of the solo voices sound to be under strain, and the orchestral tutti sounds pretty thin.

If you want to explore the genre, as I did, then it is a worthy introduction, but it is only fair to mention these reservations.
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The second Naxos release by Victorian Opera Northwest brings us to a major work by one of the 'big names' in Victorian music, (Sir) George Alexander Macfarren (1813-1887). Long-term Principal at the Royal Academy of Music, he was as famed in his lifetime for his operas, cantatas and oratorios as he was for his dogged determination not to let encroaching and finally total blindness stem his creative output.

If William Wallace's 'Lurline' is cake and champagne (Wallace: Lurline), Macfarren's 'Robin Hood' is most definitely bread and ale. Gone is the harp-festooned luxury and easily-assimilated melody of the former, replaced with - what, exactly?

There is a bluff open-heartedness in the musical idiom which suits the story and setting down to the ground. The lack of surface allure may seem somewhat stark to listeners on first hearing, but on repetition little melodic motifs catch the attention and the folk-like character of many of the tunes begins to etch them in the mind. There is colour in the orchestration, but it seldom pushes its way forward for prime attention.

From the opening of the overture to the final chorus, we are in no doubt that this is most definitely a self-conscious attempt to continue and advance a specifically English operatic style, with its evocative horn calls, simple diatonic melodies and occasional `rustic pipe-and-tabor' approach. The influence of Weber is shown in several extended scenas, but for the most part this is very much a `ballad' opera in the honourable English tradition.
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Format: Audio CD
This is another of those recordings that I really wanted to like and about which I can muster no enthusiasm. It's worth hearing if you're very curious about the state of English opera in the mid-nineteenth century. By the witness of this offering, it was in a pretty sorry state, indeed. The music is pleasant, tuneful and thoroughly forgettable. The only piece that made any favourable impression on me was the part-song early in the last act. However, that impression faded when, after 2 and a half minutes, I thought it song was coming to an end, only to be follow by another verse just as long. It was rather nice, but it over stayed its welcome.

The libretto hasn't worn particularly well, either. It's full of the felicities of which Gilbert and Sullivan were later to make such fun. There's a fine example in the finale: Robin Hood, "Oh Joy!" Maid Marian, "Oh Rapture!" G&S put it better in "Pinafore" with, "Oh Joy, Oh Rapture unforeseen!" And I can't resist mentioning Nanki Poo's famous, "Modified Rapture!"

I might have been better impressed if the performance had been better. I don't think I would, but it is a possibility. Alas, the performance isn't very inspiring. It's adequate, at best, and occasionally less than. The orchestra and chorus are good - on the order of what one would hear in a regional opera company. The principals are, without exception, over-taxed by their parts. Though none of the voices are really bad, none of them are very good either. They manage, but not without the random shout or scream to reach a high note.

The program notes indicate that this work was one of the more successful English operas of the period. If this was one of the best, it's easy to understand why they've been forgotten.
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A fascinating recording, on the whole adequately sung by the principals and chorus. The orchestra is in need of more strings but again is adequate and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. and a very enjoyable listen! A professional recording studio would probably have helped everyone - a school hall(which I assume was the venue?) does not have the right qualities to give a bloom to the sound and justice to the singers.
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A fascinating piece of victoriana, and musically engaging. It is very well sung by the cast among whom George Hulbert as the Sherriff of Nottingham stands out. I hope the producers give us more of the same, some of Balfe's operas for example.
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