> Sullivan Chamber and Instrumental music [RW]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Arthur SULLIVAN (1842-1900)
Daydreams: Chamber and Piano music

String Quartet 1859
Daydreams No.1 (piano) 1867
Daydreams No.2 (piano)
An Idyll (cello and piano) 1865
Allegro Risoluto 1866
Daydreams No.3 (piano)
Daydreams No.4 (piano)
Slowly, Slowly (cello and piano)
Daydreams No.5 (piano)
Daydreams No.6 (piano)
Berceuse (piano fantasia)
Romance for String Quartet
Thoughts No.1 (piano) 1862
Thoughts No.2 (piano) 1862
Twilight (piano) 1868
Duo Concertante Op. 2 (cello and piano)
Yeomans String Quartet:
Robert Yeomans and Anne Bunemann (violins), Louise Lansdown (viola), Gabriel Waite (cello) Jamie Walton (cello), Murray McLachlan (piano)
Rec. Recital Room, Chethams School of Music, Manchester, England 2001 DDD Mid price
SOMM SOMMCD233 [71.38]


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 years later.

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.)

Raymond Walker

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