Charles Mackerras, while still an orchestral player in Australia, conceived the notion of taking some of Sir Arthur Sullivan's music from the operettas and making a ballet of it. A few years later, in 1951 just after the copyrights on Sullivan's music lapsed, he made an arrangement of such music for John Cranko's ballet 'Pineapple Poll', premiered during the Festival of Britain. The plot of the ballet is taken from one of W.S. Gilbert's 'Bab Ballads', 'The Bumboat Woman's Story', that G&S had used for 'HMS Pinafore' but there are significant differences between the two. For instance, Little Buttercup, a middle-aged and rotund woman, is transformed into the lovely young Pineapple Poll who, in the ballet, is danced by the prima ballerina. Also, in the ballet all the able seamen are danced by women, revealed as young women only in the final moments of the ballet.
There has been, of course, a marvelous recording of 'Pineapple Poll' conducted by Mackerras himself, who not long after devising the ballet began a long and illustrious career as a world-class conductor. That recording is now forty years old and although this new recording does not have quite the exhilarating verve of Mackerras's, it is in sparkling modern sound. Included in the booklet are fascinating notes by Mackerras from the original EMI release and are, obviously, from the horse's mouth, so to speak. His notes include a synopsis of the ballet which points our where in the G&S canon the various melodies come from; it could have been a bit more specific, but it is helpful nonetheless.
Sullivan, an Englishman of Irish descent, wrote his 'Irish' Symphony in E in 1863 at age 21 just after he had finished his musical education at the Royal Academy of Music and the Leipzig Conservatory. He started it while vacationing in northern Ireland but frankly it doesn't sound particularly Irish, to me at least. It was premiered at the Crystal Palace in 1866 to great acclaim. It achieved fair popularity in the years following but has been generally ignored for the past century. It is a Mendelssohnian work, full of gentle melodies, immaculate construction and, to be honest, dull earnestness. It is good to hear it -- it has, however, been recorded before by Mackerras and Richard Hickox -- but it does not bid fair to enter the general symphonic repertoire. No, the main reason to get this CD is for this modern recording of 'Pineapple Poll.'