This is the second of two CDs devoted to the songs of George Grossmith. This one also includes a few of the songs he used to sing when taking the comic roles in Gilbert & Sullivan operas.
Leon Berger is no newcomer to this genre and may be remembered from the excellent portrayal he gave of Bouncer in the only full-length recording of Cox & Box (Divine Art 2-4104). His remarkably versatile voice with wide compass provides much variety of character and colour from track to track. It is generally for this reason that this disc so successfully holds the listener’s attention. In two of the tracks he doubles as two singers and achieves the multitracking most convincingly where the voices need to harmonise. Two vintage tracks of George Grossmith himself are also included on the disc.
Unobtrusive accompaniment is sensitively and competently provided by Selwyn Tillett who has much experience of studying and playing Victorian music. His light and nimble fingerwork is a joy to listen to and is always closely married to the voice. The piano sounds as one might expect it to in the intimate cosiness of a Victorian drawing room. The voice is nicely filled out with a small amount of reverberation, but not artificially so. Some tracks are provided with a spooky cave acoustic appropriate to the situation.
The songs are nicely varied in style and carry vivid portrayals of the numerous characters Berger musters. The opening number, The Gay Photographer [tk.1] (reminiscent of Grigg, a photographer from Sullivan’s first operetta The Contrabandista) is lifted by its catchy decoration and good whistle accompaniment. A railway song, The Muddle Puddle Porter [tk.3] is not that far removed from the ‘North South East West Diddlesex junction’ song written by Gilbert in Thespis, his first stage collaboration with Sullivan. A patter song in nature the lyrics give an overview of topsy-turvy railway management during a time when they ran to time. A Juvenile Party [tk.5], written in 1879 at the time of HMS Pinafore is an excellent item to include and provides a contrast from the Grossmith songs. It is a descriptive sketch with dialogue and sections set to music. It gives an interesting overview of the direction such an event might take. (The Silver Wedding is another sketch written in a similar fashion and not yet recorded.) The nautical flavour of The Bay of Battersea [tk.9] is provided with a bright well-composed hornpipe tune to provide the atmosphere of a pseudo London port of Battersea and suitably amusing lyrics. A nice take-off of a mid 19 th Century ballad is found in Keep the Baby warm, Mother [tk.14], particularly with its Balfe-ian ending and phrases that could be a forerunner to Keep the home Fires burning. Grossmith’s composition I’ve loved another Girl [tk.16] could well have provided Sidney Jones with a couple of ideas for numbers in his operetta, The Geisha (1896) written three years later.
The CD notes by Berger and Tillett are excellent: they contain much about the background of George Grossmith (GG) who came from a theatrical family and was well known for his one man stage shows in 1870s London. (He is easily confused because there was a GG 1 st, GG 2 nd, and GG 3 rd). Because diction is clear throughout the lyrics have been omitted from the booklet apart from the last two tracks that feature Grossmith himself in 1909 recordings.
Grossmith’s humorous songs often describe events or the jobs of certain trades people, e.g. The Dismal Dinner Party, The Old Organ Man or The Autocratic Gardener and were published by J. Bath or Reynolds & Co. There are still enough published songs of Grossmith to fill a third disc if the artistes here have the inclination to further entice Britain’s genuine collectors.
The disc is likely to be highly appreciated by those who know G&S well, principally because Grossmith was a founder actor for the D’Oyly Carte triumvirate since The Sorcerer (1877). As a largely untrained musician Grossmith is clearly influenced by exposure to the Savoy productions he knew so well. He is perhaps more gifted than many of his contemporaries writing at that time for London’s Music Hall scene. His accompaniment, although simplistic and often following the vocal line with light harmony, is catchy and flows with good rhythm. At times he mimics Sullivan, at others he parodies the Christy Minstrels (a contemporary singing group). This said, the music is wedded nicely to the lyrics.