Bishop Shakespeare Decca

Déjà Review: this review was first published in April 2000 and the recording is still available. 

Henry Rowley Bishop (1786-1855)
Shakespeare At Covent Garden
Musicians of The Globe/Philip Pickett 1996
Originally released on Philips 456 506-2 
Decca 4830597 [67]

Little of the music of Henry Rowley Bishop is now heard apart from the ever-popular Home Sweet Home. I have happy memories from my young days of some of his songs for Shakespeare productions which under him became “ballad operas”. Lo Here the Gentle Lark is known from Galli-Curci’s famous 78 recording. Bid Me Discourse is on another 78, by Margaret Ritchie as is Should He Upbraid. The first and third of these are present here, most beautifully sung by Susan Gritton, who, along with another-equally stylish and delightful soprano, Julia Gooding, are the most featured soloists with nine and five tracks respectively, one of them a splendid duet version of Orpheus With His Lute.

Andrew King is the most prominent male soloist; all the singers, fifteen soloists and a chorus, do well, as do the orchestra who play from an edition prepared from Bishop’s own score in the British Library. In this sense the recordings are world premieres though very few, apart from Lo Here the Gentle Lark, have been recorded anywhere before. Three of the nineteen tracks are Bishop’s arrangements from Ravenscroft/Morley, Arne and J.C. Smith. His own compositions reflect the influence of Mozart and enjoyably so, even if Bishop’s undoubted talent never approaches Mozart’s genius. Some orchestral touches, like the glass harmonica part in one of the two Who is Sylvias, are of interest. Andrew Pinnock’s booklet note is knowledgeable and sympathetic and all the words are appended.

This excellently recorded disc sheds enlightenment on a long dimly-lit but far from discreditable corner of British music.

Phil Scowcroft

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