Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
|Arthur Sullivan, Ronald Corp, Janice Watson|
Sullivan - The Golden Legend / J. Watson · Rigby · Wilde · J. Black · Corp
A welcome release
F. Behrens | Keene, NH USA | 12/07/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"One of the often repeated stories about Arthur Sullivan is that he was never satisfied with his reputation resting on his works with Gilbert and that he yearned to be known as the composer of "serious music." And yet the only non-"G&S" works by the latter that many would recognize are "Onward, Christian Soldiers" and "The Lost Chord." Much of his non-vocal music is available on Marco Polo label, but his cantatas and oratorios have been under-recorded to say the very least. That is why the Hyperion release of the complete score to his "The Golden Legend" (CDA67280) will do much to set his spirit's mind at rest.
Based as it is on a very long poem by Longfellow, the libretto Sullivan set to music is little more than scenes from the original, much as Berlioz' "La Damnation de Faust" is just a relatively short string of episodes from the Goethe play. In fact, even the plots are similar. Here Prince Henry (Mark Wilde, tenor) is being stalked by Lucifer (Jeffrey Black, baritone) in many guises. Just as in the the plots of "Alceste" and "The Flying Dutchman," there is a young woman, Elsie (Janice Watson, soprano), who is willing to give up her life to save the Prince. They travel all the way to Salerno, where Henry admits he was only testing her and has no desire to lose her. Snatched from Lucifer at the last moment, she weds her Prince and they live happily ever after. Obviously the value of this work does not rest with the plot. Nor does it with the vocal lines, which I found on this first hearing surprisingly uninspiring. They simply follow the patterns of normal English speech, while the chorus passages range from quite lovely to pedestrian. There is, by the way, surprisingly little chorus work compared with the pages of solos and duets. What made me love this piece, other than a feeling of loyalty to Sullivan, is the gorgeous music that accompanies all this through most of the score. Listen for yourself and let me know what you think.
Since this was composed in 1880, even as Sullivan was working on "Ruddigore," you might wonder if the opening chorus of demons in "Legend" and the ghost music in the second act of the G&S work influenced one another. I rather think that "The Golden Legend" as a whole influenced the serious nature of their next collaboration, "The Yeomen of the Guard."
The cast is uniformly fine, although you might want a little more of the demonic in Lucifer. Ronald Corp conducts the New London Orchestra and Chorus with the benefit of excellent sound. The back page of the booklet, which has the text for you to follow, acknowledges the "generous participation" of the Sir Arthur Sullivan Society and the D'Oyly Carte Charitable Trust.
Although the set holds two CDs, it is priced for only one with a running time of 94:47 minutes."
Ah, the Victorian spirit....
Evan Wilson | Cambridge, MA | 12/17/2001
(2 out of 5 stars)
"Hyperion has always been an adventurous company, so I was pleased to see them take a plunge into music of the Victorian era. Over the years, I've found some pleasant stuff from that neglected (and sometimes, reviled) period of English music. Unfortunately, this release is Victorian to the core--in the pejorative sense.The other reviewer compares the tale to "The Damnation of Faust" of Berlioz, and that's a good comparison to explain what exactly is wrong with this piece. Where Berlioz whips up drama, Sullivan gives us a series of dull, accompanied recitatives at moderate tempos which eventually run into each other. Berlioz gives us characters; Sullivan, a few faceless actors mouthing endless piety. (In fact, the text is so silly in places that I had to read the notes to make sure I didn't hear wrong.) Berlioz provides us with memorable music, Sullivan with some beautiful orchestral textures that are pretty much devoid of interesting melodic content. Berlioz challenges the listener to understand the conflict; Sullivan realizes that his comfortable Victorian audience doesn't want to be challenged and obliges them.One can sense the problems with this piece almost from the beginning. The opening segment has Lucifer rallying his troops to tear down the cross at Strasbourg Cathedral during a storm at night. His "troops" turn out to be a bunch of wussy sopranos and altos who sound like they couldn't take my 86-year-old grandmother. The storm amounts to a few chromatic runs and a bit of mumbling in the bass. Beethoven's storm in the 6th symphony is far more frightening and he was just depicting nature without the supposedly extraordinary element here. Even Lucifer is given music of little heft or strength. In fact, the staccato wind figures which reappear every time he appears sound like they ought to accompany a patter song!! After Lucifer and his minions slink away with their tails between their legs, we're treated to an echt-Victorian hymn full of sugary piety. That amounts to 9 minutes of music, there 85 more to go and it doesn't get any better. It's hard to believe that this piece was once second in popularity to only the Messiah. (Although, once the "comfortable" Victorian era passed, it's not surprising that it dropped out of sight.) It's nice to get the opportunity to hear something by Sullivan other than the operettas, but if that's what you're looking for, I recommend the Mendelssohnian "Irish" Symphony which is available from several sources.Part of the problem with this release may also be the performance. Neither the soloists nor the conductor dig into the music as if they believe it has merit. Instead, they perform it reverently which just heightens the smug, self-absorbed piety of the music. The chorus, singing in the stiff-upper lip tradition of English choruses, further adds to the tedium. Everything is certainly beautiful (aided by good sound), but it's so inert that if you put it on softly, I guarantee it'll cure your insomnia.Normally, I'd give this one star, but I don't like to discourage record companies from exploring lesser-known repretoire. Besides, if nothing else, this release could serve as exhibit #1 of the pejorative definition of "Victorian.""
A complete Golden Legend at last!
RICHARD SILVERMAN | BROOKLYN, NEW YORK United States | 01/15/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Elgar admired The Golden Legend. Indeed, it is hard to imagine The Dream of Gerontius taking shape without Sullivan's trail blazing experiments in emotional intensity and orchestral brilliance. Sullivan diverges markedly from his "English Musical Renaissance" contemporaries (Parry and Stamford) by following the Wagnerian rather than the Brahmsian path. For example, he uses the voices as extensions of the orchestra. Unfortunately, this is where the current recording is less than ideal. At times, the recording engineers give too much prominence to the vocalists at the expense of the orchestra. The brilliant brass passages on the road to Salerno and the fine trombone writing at the end of the fugue in the Epilogue are too much in the background. Fortunately, the orchestra is clearly heard in "It is the sea."
Of the soloists, Janice Watson is a radiant Elsie. In her aria, "The Night is calm" she almost equals Florence Austral's legendary 1926 performance (conducted by the young John Barbirolli). With the benefit of clear digital sound, Watson's performance is thrilling. Jean Rigby as Ursula is best in her duet with Watson. When she dreads the prospect of standing at her daughter's grave, dark clouds gather in the horns: a haunting passage that long lingers the in the listener's memory. In her two solo arias, I found her singing more restrained.
Mark Wilde is an excellent Prince Henry. His clear, rounded tenor is passionate, but never strident. His duet with Watson in scene VI is beautifully balanced. In scene I, he projects Prince Henry's mood of black despair with remarkable conviction and drama. Jeffrey Black is a wooly voiced Lucifer. His thick, darkly hued voice serves him best when the devil is in disguise as a physician or a friar. In the Prologue, Black is not at all a commanding force. Fortunately, the excellent orchestra and chorus bring this scene to life with great effect. The concluding Latin hymn for organ and male chorus is magnificent.
As befits a premiere recording, Ronald Corp avoids interpretive liberties and conducts with great precision and care. Orchestral and choral execution are at a very high level. Only in the Medical School at Salerno scene does one wish for a more subjective approach. This dramatically inconsistent scene needs to be whipped up to a state of Verdi-like hysteria to succeed.
The cantata concludes with a powerful choral Epilogue that includes an harmonically adventurous fugue. The chorus is particularly impressive here. The cantata then concludes with the organ joining the large orchestral and choral forces on a note of high Victorian confidence.
Conclusion: A fine performance of a inexplicably neglected work of genius."