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Sir Arthur SULLIVAN (1842-1900)
Mary Bevan (soprano)
Ben Johnson (tenor)
Ashley Riches (bass-baritone)
David Owen Norris (piano)
rec. April/May 2016, Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk
CHANDOS CHAN10935 [80:54 + 65:43]

David Owen Norris has a passion for Victorian song and here he has decided to provide a definitive recording of the Sullivan songs. The songs range from those provided to accompany theatrical works (like the Shakespearian ones) to others written as parlour ballads to support the growing market of pianoforte sales that reached a peak in the early 1870s. Sullivan found that this vein was a particularly lucrative one, which for him reached a zenith around 1874.

Some of the lyrics used by Sullivan have been popular with other composers too. His Orpheus and his Lute from Shakespeare’s Henry VIII was also set by George Macfarren and Vaughan Williams and although all three versions have their merits, for me the Sullivan is the finest — his setting having been a concert hall favourite for many decades. Conversely, Sullivan’s version of Shakespeare’s Where the Bee sucks never quite gained the popularity of Arne’s version. In this recording I had expected the inclusion of the catchy ditty, Care is all fiddle de dee from Burnand’s drawing room Christmas piece, The Marquis and the Mince Pie, or the snappy pantomime piece, The Dove Song, but one appreciates that since over 83 songs and ballads were set by the composer this was unlikely. I would I were a King gives a nod to In bygone Days from Ruddigore; I like its majestic chords, but for me the introduction of an operatic quality of rubato does not seem to sit well with the busy and spirited accompaniment, and so does not carry the same amount of energy found in the Howarth recording. It is interesting to see if one can recognise parallels in numbers from the Savoy operas.

This two-CD album is helpfully divided into sections: Settings to Shakespeare, General songs and ballads, Songs with Lewin lyrics, The Window Song Cycle, Songs from the Stage, and Foreign Language settings. Good notes by David Owen Norris helpfully tease out some of the fascinating background to the these sheet music songs, and how entanglements with their lyricists had been resolved. It would have been nice to have had an illustration or two of a sheet music cover shown in the booklet since there is ample provision of space. In the two-and-a-half hours of song, the recording is enriched by the quality of accompaniment; Norris’s playing is energetic, elegant and dynamically rich. He supports the singers admirably and the pace suits most of the numbers. The piano has a fine tone, but it is a pity that in some of the songs the piano is placed forward so that the accompaniment masks certain lyrics and some of the singer’s presence.

The singers; Mary Bevan, Ben Johnson and Ashley Riches are all first class with wide registers and provide changing styles well fitting the lyrics. However, The Willow Song was written for a contralto (Madame Sainton-Dolby) and is likely to have been transposed to suit Mary Bevan’s voice. There is much for the listener to enjoy in this recording. A particularly bright piece that I’m pleased to see included is the bouncy A Life That Lives For You, which is nicely sung by Ashley Riches. Birds in the Night is the concert room song with lyrics by Lewin and re-cycled music from the ballad, Hush a Bye Bacon from Cox & Box. (The young Lewin also provided the lyrics to Once Again, Golden Days and three others.) Rosalind (1863-4) has opening and closing similarities to the first setting of Is Life a Boon from The Yeomen of the Guard (1888) both in its opening and closing lines and a few phrases within. There are probably other coincidences with his operatic compositions that I have yet to detect.

Raymond J Walker

Track listing
Sigh no more, ladies (1863-4)
Orpheus with his Lute (1863-4)
O mistress mine (1863-4)
The Willow Song (1863-4)
Rosalind (1863-4)
Love laid his sleepless head (1874)
Nel ciel seren (1871)
Where the bee sucks (1861)
I wish to tune my quivering lyre (1868)
Sweet day (1864)
Arabian Love Song (1866)
Birds in the Night (1869)
A life that lives for you (1871)
Once again (1872)
Golden Days (1872)
Guinevere! (1872)
None but I can say (1872)
O Israel (1855)
St Agnes' Eve (1879)
Edward Gray (1880)
What does little birdie say? (1867)
O swallow, swallow (1900)
Tears, idle tears (1900)
The Window; or, the Songs of the Wrens, cycle (1870)
Bid me at least goodbye (1894)
E tu nol sai (1889)
Ich mochte hinaus es jauchzen (1859)
Lied, mit thränen halbgeschrieben (1861)
Oh! Ma charmante (1872)
I would I were a King (1878)
Sad Memories (1869)
Ever (1887)
Mary Morison (1874)
Old Love Letters (1879)
County Guy (1867)
Sweethearts (1875)



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