SULLIVAN On Shore and Sea
Recordings of Sullivan’s choral music are a rare commodity these days, and even rarer still are performances of these two works, written in the first flush of the composer’s career. Kenilworth, a premiere recording, was written for the Birmingham Festival of 1864, at a time when Sullivan continued to enjoy the accolades established by his incidental music to The Tempest, a graduation piece composed at the end of his time at Leipzig in 1861 and first heard in London to much acclaim in 1862. Styled a ‘masque’, there is much to admire in Kenilworth: the slick orchestration, the euphonious melody of the individual songs and dances, the ingenious multi-layered counterpoint of the chorus and quartet ‘Let fauns the cymbals ring’ and the fine nocturnal scena ‘How sweet the moonlight sleeps’, with its strong reminiscences of Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
As part of the first concert to be given at the newly opened Royal Albert Hall, On Shore and Sea was composed for the 1871 London International Exhibition. A dramatic cantata, set in 16th-century Genoa, it is in many ways a one-act opera full of intriguing exoticisms headed by the central ‘Moresque dance’ but with a sentiment not unlike earlier 19th-century rescue operas.
The interpretations are rather mixed. The chorus throughout seems to me understrength and needs more energy, precision and balance with the orchestra. Much of the solo singing is attractive but it lacks a certain theatrical extroversion and character essential to Sullivan’s genius for drama and his affinity for the Italian and French stage. Nevertheless, it is excellent to have this CD to appreciate the broader nature of the composer’s gifts beyond the Savoy operettas.