L’Île Enchantée – complete ballet; Procession March; Day Dreams; The Sapphire Necklace – Overture
BBC Concert Orchestra/John Andrews
Dutton Epoch CDLX 7404 (CD/SACD) 81:53 mins
Conductor John Andrews’s commitment to reviving 19th-century British music usually covered in dust continues with a fourth Dutton album devoted to Sullivan without Gilbert. Indeed, nothing here has any vocal, comic or operetta connections at all, though we’re certainly close to the theatre stage with the largest item, the one-act ballet L’Île Enchantée, devised for performance at Covent Garden in 1864. Lasting almost an hour, its charms include typically perky woodwind writing, a sense of poise, a disarming galop and a very danceable set of variations. A binding narrative, however, is entirely lacking, along with any sense of momentum. Some of the descriptive writing, too, veers towards the perfunctory (oh, those gnomes!).
The Procession March, written in 1863 to mark the wedding of the Prince of Wales to Princess Alexandra of Denmark, is understandably duller. But the Sullivan charm returns enriched in the three delightful character pieces of Day Dreams, originally orchestrated from piano pieces by the theatre conductor and composer Herman Finck. Most rousing of all, there’s the spirited overture to The Sapphire Necklace, a grand romantic opera that never emerged in public, partly perhaps because of a supposedly wretched (and lost) libretto, possibly concerning Mary, Queen of Scots.
Conducting from editions edited by Robin Gordon-Powell (also responsible for half of the copious and informative booklet notes), Andrews secures sparkling playing from the BBC Concert Orchestra, ever ready to enjoy the lilt and wink in Sullivan’s music, even if the album’s pieties and thumb-twiddlings leave them high and dry.