Gramophone

Gramophone “Critics Choice” 2004

It must be down to the British reluctance to appreciate its own musical heritage that Lionel Monckton’s marvellous melodies have become so largely forgotten, Any other country would hold them in esteem, as witness the fact that it has taken a group of Estonian enthusiasts to produce this collection of selections from three of Monckton’s most successful musicals.

Quite delightful it is too, and for much of the time one would have no idea that the performers were other than professional British performers singing in their native tongue. Above all, Mart Sander – principal singer, as well as conductor of the authentic orchestrations – demonstrates a fine romantic baritone in “Pearl of Sweet Ceylon”, a beautiful number that shows how well shaped and heartfelt Monckton’s melodies could be. Mariliina von Uexküll’s sweet-toned soprano is no less winning as the leading female roles.

The pity is that in promoting Monckton’s just claims the documentation virtually ignores the contributions of co-composers Paul Rubens and Howard Talbot. From The Cingalee, Rubens’s “Sloe Eyes” solo and his duets “Monkeys” and “You and I” are real charmers, while Talbot’s numbers such as “Half Past Two” contributed a great deal to the lasting success of The Arcadians. The Quaker Girl, though, is pure Monckton, demonstrating again in numbers such as “A Dancing Lesson” and “Little Grey Bonnet” how well-fashioned his melodies were. Balance between voices and orchestra is not always ideal; but that scarcely detracts from the appeal of an enterprising and delightful issue.

—Andrew Lamb