Sullivan The Light of the World
Natalya Romaniw, Eleanor Dennis (soprano), Kitty Whately (mezzo-soprano), Robert Murray (tenor), Ben McAteer (baritone), Neal Davies (bass-baritone); Kinder Children’s Choir; BBC Symphony Chorus; BBC Concert Orchestra/John Andrews
Dutton 7356 (hybrid CD/SACD) 146:19 mins (2 discs)
Over the last few decades there’s been a revival of interest in Arthur Sullivan’s serious scores. The latest to receive a full-scale studio recording is the oratorio The Light of the World, launched at the Birmingham Festival in 1873 when the composer was 31 – so predating all the Gilbert & Sullivan operas with the exception of the lost Thespis (1871). In the tradition of the post-Mendelssohn English oratorio, it’s an uneven work that nevertheless contains imaginative touches along the way, especially in the orchestral writing. George Grove’s Biblical libretto covers incidents in the life of Jesus from the angel appearing to the shepherds through to the resurrection; an unusual feature for the era is that Jesus is actually a character, even though his part is merely labelled ‘Solo’. Yet overall, and however tastefully – and indeed often beautifully – done it is, there’s a dearth of drama.
This performance, though, is close to ideal. All the soloists make their mark, with Robert Murray expressive, Kitty Whately precise and potent in tone (if not quite the contralto asked for) as the Angel, and magnificent in ‘God Shall Wipe Away All Tears’. Neal Davies makes striking contributions while Natalya Romaniw is spirited in the Magnificat; but ultimately it’s baritone Ben McAteer’s emphatic Jesus that impresses most. Conductor John Andrews does an excellent job, bringing constant motion to the score and drawing refined playing from the BBC Concert Orchestra and articulate singing from the BBC Symphony Chorus and the Kinder Children’s Choir.