In catalogues, adverts & reviews his name is spelt with a final "S" in February 1929, but without it in September the same year. The singer was probably the John Gwilym Griffith (no "s") born at Margam, near Port Talbot, south Wales, on 28 July 1914, who became a local government officer and married Winifred Margaret Jones in December 1941.
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John Gwilym Griffith(s) A: How beautiful are the feet (G.F. Handel (1685-1759), oratorio "Messiah", 1742) (matrix WA8743-1) with double string quartet & flute accomp. B: Drink to me only with thine eyes (wds Ben(jamin) Jonson (1572-1637), in poem "To Celia" [in "The Forest" ix, 1616] - tune by c.1762, rather doubtfully attrib. to Col. R. Mellish (1777-1817), but perh. later arr. by him) (WA8742-2) with double string quartet (only) accomp. Both rec. ca. 20 March 1929. This disc retailed at 3/=.
Whilst the Handel is described as "good and really worthwhile" the song is "beyond a boy's powers" (review in The Gramophone Sept. 1929). Gramophone and Talking Machine News (London, Sept. 1929, p. 336) noted the pleasing voice but thought the singing rather laboured.
"Master Griffith has a voice of very beautiful quality - he is, in fact, one of the best trebles we have heard, except for the fact that he has a shade too much vibrato. Drink to me only is excellently done, and the accompaniment by a string octet is equally good. One of the 'hows' in the Messiah air comes out with rather a burst, but with this exception it is very good indeed." (Review in The Sound Wave [London], Sept. 1929, p. 543.)
"Considerable prominence has been given of late to the recording of the voices of the leading trebles in our various places of worship, and their efforts have met with distinct approval in many instances. Here are two beautiful arias sung by John William [sic] Griffith, a young singer who has a great reputation in his native country." (Review in Music Art and Trade Journal, London, Sept. 1929, p. 20.)
"Another attractive boy soprano, tackling real music with intelligence. Lovely reproduction." (Review in The Gramophone Review of Records, Machines and Inventions, London, Oct. 1929, p. 265.)
Both of these beautifully sung items are now available on Amphion CD The Better Land vol. 6.
John Gwilym Griffith(s) A: As pants the hart (Spohr) (For details of this piece please see under Thomas Meddings) (matrix WAX4285-1) B: Where e'er you walk (G.F. Handel (1685-1759), oratorio "Semele", 1744) (WAX4284-1) Both rec. 10 Nov. 1928 at Christ Church, Westminster Bridge Road, London, with chorus (Spohr), orch. cond. Charles Prentice & organ accomp. by W.G. Webber. This disc retailed at 4/6.
C.M. Crabtree in The Gramophone (Feb. 1929, p. 404) wrote that Griffith's "voice is exceptionally clear and strong" and the Handel was "as good an account as any boy could [give]."
"An excellent voice and, what is rare, a choir boy who sings with expression. The choral parts of As Pants the Hart are good too, but the accompaniment, in both solos, is a little heavy at times." (Review in The Sound Wave [London], Feb. 1929, p. 106.)
". . . His voice is of flute-like quality, and his sense of pitch is as near perfection as is no matter; but he has yet something to learn on the score of phrasing. Still, he records wonderfully well, and this disc should have a host of admirers." (Review in Gramophone and Talking Machine News [London], Feb. 1929, p. 64.)
"There are few who remain unmoved when hearing a good boy-soprano's pure and unaffected singing, and in John Gwilym Griffiths the Columbia Company have discovered an exceedingly capable singer with a very beautiful voice. He has very clear diction and sings As Pants the Hart with very accurate intonation and real feeling. Orchestral and organ accompaniments add to the charm of the performance, and the record is one which will be in great demand." (Review in Music Art and Trade Journal, London, Feb. 1929, p. 21.)
"A lovely boy's soprano, used with feeling and intelligence. The reproduction is on a high level." (Review in The Gramophone Review of Records, Machines and Inventions, London, March 1929, p. 79, giving recording location.)
The choristers of St Nicholas' College Chislehurst feature by popular request in their famous 'Brother James' Air and O Lovely Peace. Master Thomas Criddle's amazing voice has excited much comment by reviewers and singing teachers. ----------------
This disc is quite remarkable for the wide range of vocal qualities and styles displayed, spanning a period of nearly 60 years. The two tracks by John Gwilym Griffith (new to CD) are alone worth the price of the disc, being sung with exquisite tone, style and feeling. Walter Lawrence, the New York choirboy, shows us in a track from 100 years ago, an amazingly easy vocal mastery of coloratura in "Rejoice Greatly" (Messiah), despite the slightly hurried tempi necessary to fit the (abridged) aria onto a 4-minute disc. The French song on his other track is another example of excellent technique and breath control. Thomas Criddle again shows a very attractive, pure, clear voice and good style in his May 1943 items. Frank Bird (also newly on CD), sounding younger than his 15¼ years, is a fine example of the English parish choirboy between the wars.
Other tracks are perhaps not quite as pleasurable, but rewarding in their own way as historically illustrative. Michael Lumb and John Evans-Pugh sing in an over-refined or "precious" manner now outdated and probably not to most tastes. Robin Fairhurst lacks the necessary "steel" in his voice and has less than ideal breath control, while Raymond Kinsey (so prized in volumes 4 & 5) here sounds tired in a laboured account of Gounod's "Ave Maria". Mansel Squire's rendering of "I know that my Redeemer liveth" (Messiah) is rather curious: worryingly hesitant and inexpressive, without the progress from conviction in the opening lines, through triumph to awe and wonder at Divine grace, which the very best singers bring to the piece. He is not helped by an uninspiring organ accompaniment. One can only assume that limited studio time precluded a re-take.
In summary, with a total playing time of 76 minutes this is a valuable document for those interested in the singing styles of boy soloists (both choristers and entertainers) since the earliest days of recording and the disc bears repeated careful listening.
Order directly from Stephen Beet to avail of the special price: Each CD is £10 plus postage.
The Better Land set of six CDs is £55 plus postage. (This includes a copy of Mr. Beet's book "The Better Land - In search of the lost boy sopranos." Please contact Mr. Beet StephenRBeet@gmail.com. PayPal address: email@example.com Prices quoted in Euro and other currency on request.
As well as chapters on Iwan Davies, Derek Barsham, and Denis Wright, amongst others there are also chapters under the following headings: The Temple Boys, The Manchester Boys, The Music Hall Boys, The Fleeting Boys, and The Broadcast Boys.
This book is available directly from the author: Contact StephenRBeet@gmail.com
Price £10 plus postage
This book is available for the cost of postage and packing only if the set of six The Better Land CD albums is ordered.