A truly revelatory discovery from John Andrews

Sullivan: The Light of the World

Natalya Romaniw, Eleanor Dennis, Kitty Whately, Robert Murray, Ben McAteer, Neal Davies; Kinder Children’s Choir, BBC Symphony Chorus, BBC Concert Orchestra, John Andrews (conductor)

The story of the oratorio narrates the whole life of Christ, focusing on his deeds on Earth as preacher, healer and prophet. The Light of the World was first performed in 1873 and was frequently to be heard throughout Great Britain and elsewhere during Sullivan’s lifetime. Since then the work had fallen into relative neglect.

My first encounter with Sullivan’s The Light of the World was the NFMS (now Making Music) Sullivan Centenary Concert, held in Liverpool Cathedral, some eighteen years ago. The work was performed, if my memory serves me correctly, with a variety of amateur choirs together with professional soloists.  David Houlder played an organ reduction of the score, that I imagine he had devised, and in this guise the score struck me as somewhat monotonous. When I learnt of this release I welcomed the opportunity to encounter the work with fresh ears!

Listening to this new recording of Sullivan’s 140 minute oratorio, it soon became apparent that this work is far from dull and is in fact a very dramatic and indeed memorable work.  This is, in no small part, due to John Andrews’ fine direction as he keeps the work moving along and gives an overall coherence to the oratorio that I had previously felt to be lacking. The accompanying booklet is excellent containing notes on the key performers, an outline of the work and indeed a full libretto. Not that the latter is really needed such is the quality of diction of both the soloists and choirs, in particular the BBC Symphony Chorus. Ben McAteer is especially fine as Jesus, Natalya Romaniw is Mary, mother of Jesus and Kitty Whately comes across appropriately as an angel. However all of the soloists deserve credit as their are no weak links in this performance. THe BBC Concert Orchestra clearly believe in the merits of this work and play with enthusiasm in this excellent performance.

Congratulations are due to John Andrews, the team at Dutton-Epoch and the Sir Arthur Sullivan Society for bringing this recording to the market. This eye-opening performance of the oratorio has been captured in excellent sound and it is quite apparent that this is an accomplished, moving and dramatic work that deserves to get a wide audience. If you enjoy oratorios of this period then go out and purchase this release – you won’t be disappointed!

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