This recording fills an important gap
in Sullivan’s recorded repertoire, and for that we must thank Somm and
members of the Sir Arthur Sullivan Society for getting this material
mastered. Some of the pieces were recorded by Pearl (1974) and a few
were given a rare airing in the BBC’s Composer of the Week – Sullivan
in 2000, but this digital recording contains the première recording
of the String Quartet.
Arthur Sullivan was perhaps Great
Britain’s most important composer of the Victorian age, remembered principally
for the fresh sound he brought to the world of comic opera in the Gilbert
and Sullivan partnership. As a composer, his genre is wide yet not altogether
well known. It is interesting, therefore, to look at this gifted musician
in a different light. These piano and chamber works come from the early
period of Sullivan’s career (1859-69) and prior to the commencement
of the Gilbert/Sullivan/D’Oyly Carte triumvirate.
Of particular interest on this CD is
his String Quartet of 1859. This was lost until the manuscript appeared
amongst second-hand sheet music in an Oxford bookshop in the mid-Nineties.
It gives us a rare example of the style of music Sullivan was writing
at the age of 16, and a fine work it is too. Of particular interest
is his use of chords which arrest the rhythm: Sullivan must have been
fascinated with the effect for not only does he use the device repeatedly
in this work, but we hear it used in the mature Sullivan some twenty
As the CD notes explain, there is considerable
breadth in the atmosphere and harmony of the six Daydreams pieces,
providing moving moods of reflection, joy and melancholy. One might
be forgiven for thinking the music is that of Schumann for Sullivan
received his training in the German Romantic School at Leipzig Conservatoire.
At the end of the Idyll one can hear a hint of his Symphony,
The Irish (1866) in the piano chords: this may have been coincidental
or deliberate. (Written only a year after the symphony, either is possible.)
One of the numbers will be familiar
–it is the main theme of the Berceuse taken from the Cox and
Box lullaby. This piece is skilfully treated in the composition
more as a fantasia, which in a different key from the original vocal
setting conveys an interestingly different mood.
The two Thoughts pieces are appealing
and nicely played. However, as they were later published for violin
and piano one might have hoped that the later setting would have provided
more variation to the programme. Likewise, Twilight was later
rearranged as a trio.
The ordering of the pieces on the disc
has been well thought out. Daydreams 2 runs nicely on to the
Idyll in the same key with such similar mood that one might be
fooled into thinking the latter is an extension to Daydreams.
Breaking up the six Daydreams pieces is a sensible move.
Apart from the rarity of the items,
the success of this disc lies partly in the skills of the musicians
and quality of their instruments. The adept fingerwork and energetic
reading displayed by Murray McLachlan’s (particularly in the haunting
and balletic Daydreams 4) does full justice to the scores, while
Jamie Walton’s warm-toned cello blends well with the piano and fires
the emotions in the Duo Concertante (tk.16) with intriguing runs
and robust support to the piece. The Yeomans String Quartet gives sensitive
attention to dynamics and play with gusto throughout.
In the ambience of Chethams Music School
Recital room the piano pieces are nicely recorded. I find the balance
between cello and piano just right, but some listeners may find the
quartet too forwardly placed to their liking. However, for me I found
this did not detract from my enjoyment.
Included are full and excellent notes
in English, French and German by William Parry. Considerable detail
on the background to the pieces is given and provides interesting reading.
(Once again one of the smaller record companies shows up our main CD
companies with the detailed CD notes it provides.)