Home Listening: Arthur Sullivan’s serious side

Sullivan’s The Light of the World sees the light of day at last. Plus, the Fidelio Trio and new music on Radio 3

Arthur Sullivan will forever be associated with his longtime collaborator WS Gilbert and their effervescent Savoy operas, but there was always a serious side to Sullivan, a composer who longed to be recognised for more than The Mikado and HMS Pinafore.

In 1873, two years before the Savoy series began with Trial By Jury, Sullivan produced a full-scale oratorio, The Light of the World, telling the life of Christ and perhaps drawing inspiration from Holman Hunt’s massively popular picture of the same name. As the pre-Raphaelites drew on the past and looked to the future, so Sullivan makes reference to Britain’s musical past and reshapes it for a new age in a piece that, unlike Handel’s Messiah or the Bach Passions, replaces a spiritual representation of Christ with his physical, human story.

Home listeners can judge whether he succeeded in his aim as a first recording of the complete piece is now out (Dutton Epoch), with Sullivan’s own cuts restored. Natalya Romaniw, Eleanor Dennis, Kitty Whately, Robert Murray, Ben McAteer and Neal Davies lend lustre to this vast undertaking, joined by the BBC Concert Orchestra, BBC Symphony Chorus and Kinder Children’s Choir, conducted by John Andrews. It’s a rambling piece, and one can’t help thinking that Sullivan was right to cut it after early performances, but much of the solo writing is beautifully shaped and, as in all Sullivan, an easy lyricism pervades throughout.

The Fidelio Trio (l-r): Mary Dullea (piano), Adi Tal (cello) and Darragh Morgan (violin).
The Fidelio Trio (l-r): Mary Dullea (piano), Adi Tal (cello) and Darragh Morgan (violin). Photograph: Hugo Glendinning

• Entirely different music from a similar period comes from the Fidelio Trio, playing piano trios by Fauré, Chausson and Satie (Resonus) with consummate musicianship. Chausson’s G minor work comes to brooding, intense life in their hands, as does Fauré’s only venture into this genre, his heartfelt trio in D minor. And they include a pleasing curiosity in this rewarding recording: John White’s arrangements of Satie’s typically enigmatic incidental music to his own play, Le Piège de Méduse.

•Three cheers for Radio 3’s New Year New Music project that ran throughout last week, and continues today. Across the schedule, the station’s presenters have been championing their favourite music written in the past 10 years. Extended performances of all the works can be heard in a special edition of Hear and Now. Catch it on BBC Sounds.

Contributor

Stephen Pritchard

The GuardianTramp

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