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British Opera Overtures - English Opera in the Nineteenth Century
Julius BENEDICT (1804-1885)
The Lily of Killarney
(1862) [8.43]
John BARNETT (1802-1890)
The Mountain Sylph
(1834) [7.27]
Michael William BALFE (1808-1870)
The Siege of Rochelle
(1835) [9.24]
Le Puits D’Amour (1843) [9.34]
Edward LODER (1809-1865)
The Night Dancers
(1846) [6.49]
William Vincent WALLACE (1812-1865)
(1860) [8.22];
The Amber Witch (1861) [5.59];
Love’s Triumph - prelude (1864) [3.52]
George Alexander MACFARREN (1813-1887)
She Stoops to Conquer
(1864) [5.56]
Arthur Goring THOMAS (1850-1892)
The Golden Web
(1893) [8.28]
Victorian Opera Orchestra/Richard Bonynge
rec. Urmston Grammar School, Manchester, 16-17 July 2011. DDD

Hardly a dazzling sunrise of a renaissance but at least the fields of Victorian opera are now being tilled. Several complete operas have been issued on Naxos. These include Macfarren’s Robin Hood and Wallace’s Maritana and Lurline. Balfe’s Falstaff (RTE Lyric), The Bohemian Girl (Decca) and The Maid of Artois (Campion) can all be found in the catalogue. Once upon a time this sort of repertoire was to be found only on 1950s BBC Third Programme broadcasts and on the Rare Recorded Edition ‘cottage industry’ LPs that one used to find advertised in the back pages of Gramophone. How things have moved on.
We now receive this completely unhackneyed and wide-ranging anthology of English operatic overtures directed by Richard Bonynge, the doyen of this repertoire. Benedict’s The Lily of Killarney makes free with a theme from Beethoven’s ‘Choral’ Symphonyall packaged in wrapping paper owing more than a little to Mendelssohn and Weber. Those two composers also lean benignly over the pages of Barnett’s The Mountain Sylph,rubbing shoulders with the lighter Tchaikovsky and diluted Berlioz. The big overture to Balfe’sThe Siege of Rochelle suggests an affinity for Bellini and nineteenth century operatic ballet music mixed in with Weber and Rossini. There’s some pretty striking eerie music at about 5:20 but it is not long before Balfe returns to the tried and trusted Weber/Rossini dramatic manner. Balfe’s Le Puits D’Amour is often a delicate and tissuey creature, smilingly bel canto in its ways. Bonynge is well experienced in the realms of bel canto. The overture stands out confidently in this company even if it does end with conventional affirmative gestures.
Loder’s The Night Dancers bears a confluence of voices - those of Mendelssohn, especially A Midsummer Night’s Dream, of Bruckner’s tensile ppp material from the symphonies and of the dramatic rhetoric of Beethoven and Rossini. Wallace’s Lurline is also a cut above with a superbly curvaceous and affluently rolled out melody from the opulent strings. Much else is in the cantabile lyrical impulse of the time. There are some lovely effects and all most caringly and meticulously orchestrated. Moments reminded me of Dvořák and Schumann. Verdian - even Wagnerian - storm clouds cut across the horizon in the same composer’s The Amber Witch as well as some contrasting heroic romantic work for the horns. The overture ends on a downbeat. The prelude to Love’s Triumph sports some liquidly mellifluous clarinet cantabile solos - a touch of Weber and Mozart here. Macfarren’s She Stoops to Conquer owes more than a little to that same sweetly flowing Mozartean lyrical line but accentuated with Weber and Mendelssohn and ending in a confident gesture. Thomas’s The Golden Web is another big overture with a singingly confident Mediterranean surge and flow. It’s a strong overture with high romantic aureate invention and the sort of Tchaikovskian filigree one hears in the ballets and the more delicate sections of the Manfred Symphony. It makes us wonder again about Thomas and his other works. We have been missing something altogether valuable.
Victorian Opera Northwest provided the highly skilled orchestra. Its Director is MWI reviewer Raymond Walker who we are assured has, together with conductor Richard Bonynge, carried out much research and realisation work to produce this CD. We also have to thank Valerie Langfield, Peter Jaggard, Nicholas Temperley and Michael Harris for their own input to make this disc such a success.
Somm once again prove themselves a pathfinder - this time for some grandly romantic English overtures which need no special pleading.
Rob Barnett 

See also review by John France