Sir Arthur SULLIVAN
The Martyr of Antioch
Catherine Foster (sop); Gillian
Stephen Brown (ten.); Gareth Jones (bar.);
Stephen Godward (bass); Clive Woods (organ);
Northern Chamber Orchestra and Sullivan Chorus
Conducted by Richard Balcombe
Recording of performance at Gilbert and Sullivan Festival, Buxton, August
The Martyr of Antioch is a 'Sacred Musical Drama' composed for and first
performed at the Leeds Triennial Musical Festival in October 1880. It was
conducted by Sullivan himself, who had just been appointed Musical Director
of the Festival, which position he held until his death. The words were taken
from the drama of the same name by the Rev. H.. H.. Milman, with changes
by W. S. Gilbert.
The work itself is very enjoyable and most of it is written in a style more
akin to his operettas than to the religious style of Sullivan's cantatas.
The reviews of the original performance comment that Sullivan seemed more
interested in the songs and rites of the pagan rather than in the Christian
aspect; this seems fair comment; much of the work is light and lyrical rather
than emphasising the drama suggested by the title.
All the soloists sing well, the only criticism is that neither of the two
ladies enunciate their words in a way which allows easy comprehension (this
is a pity, because one of Sullivan's great strengths is the ability to write
songs which are both lyrical and perfectly matched to the English language).
The orchestral playing and choral singing are both excellent and Richard
Balcombe conducts with style and vigour.
The performance and recording were sponsored by the Sir Arthur Sullivan Society
and by the International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival. The result proves
that the revival was well worth while. Thanks to support by Professor George
W. Hilton, a new set of band parts is now available, and further performances
will be possible (by contacting the Society).
The descriptive booklet is graced by a photograph of Sullivan together with
the soloists and orchestra at the original performance. There is a fascinating
account by Selwyn Tillet relating to the original performance and the events
leading up to it. A copy of Sullivan's preface to the work is also included
but unfortunately something has gone wrong with the typesetting and the text
is mangled. A copy of the libretto or even a summary description of the
individual numbers would have helped tremendously.
So far as the recording is concerned this is excellent and, although described
as a recording of a public performance, no audience noises or applause is
present to prevent enjoyment.
Overall, the disc is most enjoyable and can be recommended to anyone who
has enjoyed the Sullivan operas or enjoys not too solemn Choral music.