Sullivan: The Golden Legend

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Sullivan
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: The Golden Legend
PERFORMER: Janice Watson (soprano), Jean Rigby (mezzo-soprano), Mark Wilde (tenor), Jeffrey Black (baritone); London Chorus, New London Orchestra/Ronald Corp
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67280
Premiered at the 1886 Leeds Festival, Sullivan’s dramatic cantata was his most ambitious concert piece and much performed in the late Victorian era. Subsequently it fell into neglect, and this is its first complete recording. Based on Longfellow’s poem, the libretto tells of a medieval prince whose life is saved by the willingness of Elsie, a young maiden, to die for him. Lucifer is behind this cruel scheme, but is properly robbed of his victim.

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It’s a patchy piece, with some marvellous sections (the duet between hero and heroine on their wedding day is outstanding) and some less inspired passages. The style partakes of Mendelssohn and Schumann, with the odd flash of Berlioz and some occasional Wagnerian yearnings. One or two moments wander in the direction of the Savoy Theatre.

The orchestral writing is imaginative, the solo and choral writing always effective, but there’s a want of real substance in places.

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Under Ronald Corp’s careful direction, his well-disciplined choir and orchestra give a good account of this rarity. Janice Watson is in radiant voice as Elsie, Jean Rigby rich-toned as her mother, and Mark Wilde confident as the Prince. As Lucifer, Jeffrey Black needs more firmness and vigour. George Hall