> FORGOTTEN VICTORIAN THEATRE MUSIC: SULLIVAN & BALFE [CW]: Classical Reviews- January 2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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FORGOTTEN VICTORIAN THEATRE MUSIC: SULLIVAN & BALFE
BALFE: Overture "Le Puits d'Amour"; Song, "Come into the Garden Maud".
SULLIVAN: Songs from "The Tempest", "The Sapphire Necklace", "The Contrabandista", "Thespis", "The Sorcerer", "Ruddigore", "The Yeomen of the Guard", "Ivanhoe", "Haddon Hall", "Utopia Limited", "The Grand Duke", "The Beauty Stone", "The Rose of Persia", "The Emerald Isle".
RUDALL CARTE: Flute Selection from "The Pirates of Penzance".
Soloists, Alderley Singers & Festival Orchestra
conducted by Peter England
Recorded 18th November 2000, Alderley Edge, Cheshire
WRW201-2 [57.09?]


Following two curtain raisers by Balfe, one of which at least ("Come into the Garden, Maud") puts the credibility of the album's title seriously in doubt at the start, we have sixteen tracks taken from Sullivan's operatic output, with and without Gilbert. The older composer's overture "Le Puits d'Amour" certainly justifies its place, its suave style and graceful melodic cut evidently studied with advantage by his young contemporary.

So to the Sullivan songs. 'Forgotten'? Well, some of them perhaps. Or at least nearly. The only items really snatched from oblivion are the pair from "The Sapphire Necklace", a four act opera written by the young Sullivan in 1864 to a libretto by writer and critic H. F. Chorley but never performed. Only the overture and these two numbers survive, although it's likely that many of Sullivan's numbers found good homes elsewhere, as was certainly the case with that Holy Grail for Sullivan scholars, the long-lost "Thespis", his first collaboration with Gilbert. Indeed we even have a relic here from that score, though the faint charm of the parlour song 'Little Maid of Arcadee' hardly sets the pulse racing for further revelations.

"The Sapphire Necklace" may have been an altogether different matter, judging from the lyrical 'Over the Roof', well sung by soprano Sarah Grey; best of all is 'When Love and Beauty', rescued for the Madrigal Society of London as late as 1896. Its smiling grace, crystal clarify of ensemble and energy are typical of the young Sullivan, and it's good to have the chance to hear it at last. Both these items were neatly rescored for this performance. Most of the rest has made it onto CD or at least LP in some form or other, and the songs included from the Savoy operas - with the possible exception of Robin's song from "Ruddigore" - are still frankly green in memory.

No matter. What we get is a chronological Cook's Tour through some of the lesser known provinces of Sullivan Land, and most of the journey is charming. A potpourri for flute and piano from "The Pirates of Penzance" arranged by D'Oyly Carte's flautist brother is a highlight; it's good to hear the composerís lovely swansong 'Come away' from "The Emerald Isle" in its original context; the late and early duets from "The Beauty Stone" and "The Contrabandista" hardly emerge as inferior to 'Rapture, rapture' from "The Yeomen of the Guard"; 'Where the Bee Sucks' from "The Tempest" is only otherwise to be had on the absolutely complete recording made by the Vienna Symphony Orchestra under Charles Adler in 1955 (transfer available from Sounds on CD of Croydon).

This recording was made last year at a public concert given by local forces in Alderley Edge, Cheshire. The singers, instrumentalists and orchestral players are mainly amateurs; and although in Ray Walker's vivid recording this does create a warm, cosy sense of an extended Victorian 'at home' many listeners will find their reserves of festive generosity extended to the full. Aside from Ms Grey, Anthony Noden and Robert Wardle are specially good; and a special word of praise is due to 16 year old Tom Copeland for daring to tread the hallowed ground of Maud's Garden with such taste and sensitivity. Ray Walker's design and documentation is lovingly done, copious colour illustrations from original sources adding greatly to the appeal of an issue which is certainly of considerable interest to Sullivan aficionados.

Christopher Webber


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