We know Sullivan primarily for the brilliant music he wrote for the equally brilliant comic plays of WS Gilbert. Many will also know some of his excellent concert music. The songs are a different matter, although many are attractive and well written, they fall outside the popular Lieder repertoire inhabited by Schubert and his lot, not always reaching the heights attained by those German composers with which they have a cultural affinity. Nonetheless they are certainly worthy of our attention and so Chandos has come to the rescue with 46 of them.
For his texts Sullivan drew widely. He drew from Shakespeare, O Mistress Mine and The Willow Song. The song cycle The Window by Tennyson and from Robert Burns the delicately felt Mary Morrison. In the main the music is often what you would expect, lightly inspired Victoriana. For example, the Arabian Love Song, with its mysterious piano ripples between verses is intriguing and the ballad Once Again undoubtedly had female hearts fluttering in many a drawing room.
Sweethearts is a melodramatic duet from the composer’s old collaborator, Gilbert. It is set as a waltz and goes with an engaging swing. Familiar to Savoyards will be the reworking of an amusing tribute to frying bacon from the operetta Cox and Box into the charming lullaby Birds in the Night. Tennyson’s song, Swallow Swallow, is a delight and in his Edward Grey one can easily conjure up the vison of a stiff necked moustachioed tenor clutching a mantelpiece with restrained passion as he gives it his all. Sullivan also made settings of French, Italian and German texts and the music reflects this without being gauche.
These are some of the unexpected treasures in this welcome collection, largely well performed. Sadly the tenor, Ben Johnson, is somewhat stretched at times