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Sir Arthur SULLIVAN (1842-1900)
The Tempest - incidental music (1. Introduction; 2. Act III Prelude; 3. Banquet Dance; 4. Act IV Overture; 5. Dance of Nymphs and Reapers; 6. Act V Prelude; 7. Postlude) (1861) [28:12]
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
The Tempest - incidental music op. 109 (1926): Prelude [5:37]; Suite No. 2 (Chorus of the Winds – Intermezzo – Dance of the Nymphs – Prospero – Song I – Song II – Miranda – The Naiads – Dance Episode) [14:29]; Suite No. 1 (The Oak Tree – Humoresque – Caliban’s Song – The Harvesters – Canon – Scene – Intrada – Berceuse – Ariel’s Song – The Storm) [20:06]
Kansas City Symphony/Michael Stern
rec. 1-2 February 2008, Community of Christ Auditorium, Independence, Missouri, USA. DDD
Experience Classicsonline

This coupling is unusual for two reasons. Firstly, the musical styles of the composers is quite different. Secondly, Sibelius wrote his music as a commission for a stage piece whereas Sullivan wrote his purely as a composition for the concert hall. By 1926, Sibelius was effectively at the end of his career while in 1861 Sullivan was finishing his training at Leipzig Conservatoire.
For the Sullivan the benchmark recording for me is the HMV Vivian Dunn recording of 1972 (now coupled with Sargent’s Ruddigore) [CDS 747 7878]. It has since been recorded on Chandos in 2000 by Richard Hickox [CHAN 9859] and excellent though that version is, the orchestral principals are on better form and the acoustics more lush on the earlier HMV recording.
In the Sullivan, the pace is excellent and the orchestra play with due attention to the score’s dynamics but the trumpets in the opening Introduction are almost entirely lost. The first strings are crisp and carry the energy of the first bars forward with determination. The Banquet Dance is new to me and unfortunately the notes do not detail anything about it. There is a superb reading of the Act IV Overture, both in pace and commitment. The strings here shine clearly through the other sections, which here have an edge on the other existing recordings. The Dance of the Reapers offers less interpretatively speaking but remains attractively done. Omitted from the recording are the Sullivan songs: Come unto these yellow sands, Full fathom five and While you’re here.
The heavier Sibelius suites are characteristically more robust. It is a matter of taste, but I cannot believe that lovers of the more romantic style of the Sullivan will necessarily be equally impressed by the Sibelius score, or vice versa. Perhaps the only criticism of the latter is that Verdi chose a highly melodic approach to his settings of Shakespeare, which is matched by Sullivan’s approach: I have his Macbeth in mind. Sullivan’s storm music within his Introduction is much lighter than the convincingly grim and atmospheric one Sibelius establishes in his Prelude. Sibelius adds a second storm, not dissimilar in style from his first. His Dance of the Nymphs and Reapers is bright yet does not match the Sullivan’s melodic gift. A rather laboured Prospero and a repetitiously orchestrated Dance Episode both meander with little purpose. Sibelius’s incidental music is on the whole of a pleasantly lighter style than that characteristically associated with this composer. The Humoresque is firmly in the character of Shakespeare and is certainly appealing.
The orchestra is of generous size and the recording carries a good acoustic. Michael Stern conducts with impact and has an excellent knowledge of the scores. Anthony Hodgson’s notes (in English only) are informative and give useful background to both scores.
Raymond J Walker

see also review by Rob Barnett



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