The Harmonious Echo – Songs
Mary Bevan (soprano), Kitty Whately (mezzo-soprano), Ben Johnson (tenor), Ashley Riches (bass-baritone), David Owen Norris (piano)
Chandos CHAN20239 93:33 mins (2 discs)
This second instalment of David Owen Norris’s collected edition of Sullivan’s songs adds a further well-chosen singer, mezzo Kitty Whately, to the three equally appropriate voices heard on the first volume (2017): like soprano Mary Bevan, tenor Ben Johnson and baritone Ashley Riches, she brings clear diction and a good range of tone to the material – much of it forgotten today.
In his informative notes, pianist and Sullivan expert Norris suggests that the themes of the songs, so readily associated with the Victorian era that extended just beyond the composer’s lifetime (1842-1900), have acquired renewed relevance to our time, with their ‘preoccupation with death from disease’. More widely, they deal with ‘courtship, marriage and children, change and decay and supernatural consolation.’
That said, they are uneven, invariably technically adroit while not always presenting the composer at his considerable best; that’s partly down to the variable quality of the texts. But there are certainly highlights here, in the genres of drawing-room ballads, separately published extracts from incidental music and operas (the largely lost Thespis and The Sapphire Necklace, for instance), or the potent Kipling setting ‘The Absent-Minded Beggar’, a fundraiser for the dependents of Boer War soldiers in which all four singers join, led by Riches, who supplies exactly the common touch required. There are other impressive discoveries – ‘Thou art weary’, ‘The moon in silent brightness’, ‘Other Days’ – while in Whately’s visionary performance, ‘The Lost Chord’ registers as the masterpiece it is.