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Review of a Performance at a Novello Oratorio Concert from The Times
Thursday, February 23, 1888.
 
NOVELLO ORATORIO CONCERTS

After a prolonged absence in Italy, Mr. Mackenzie appeared last night in the conductor’s seat at the Novello Oratorio Concert and was greeted by the audience as well as by the chorus with the warmth due to a musician of his distinction. Although the average execution has not as yet reached the high standard which is a matter of constant co-operation at least as much as of individual merit, these concerts have a distinct function in our musical life. For while our old-established choral societies too generally limit themselves to a very few works of general popularity, the practical as well as the artistic object of the Novello Oratorio Concerts is at least partly to bring forward the composition of modern, and more especially modern English, musicians.

Such a work, Sir Arthur Sullivan’s The Golden Legend occupied the chief place in last night’s programme. No special enterprise indeed was needed to revive this charming cantata, which, ever since its production at Leeds, has drawn large audiences and excited enthusiasm wherever it has been heard in an English concert room, although it will be remembered that the Berlin critics, showing less judgment than might have been expected, failed to recognize its merits. Those merits have been too frequently insisted upon in The Times to require any further mention. Persons who fail to recognize the weird charm of the prologue with its novel effect of the cathedral bells become vocal, the subtle humour of the contrapuntal fiend, and the sweetness of some of the melodies, must be singularly obtuse, and the composer may well rest satisfied with the verdict of the vox populi, which in this case is in full accord with the opinion of competent judges.

One of the advantages of The Golden Legend is that it presents no very great difficulties to competent singers. The music, though well written, and at times scholarly, is simple and straightforward withal, and the chorus, having evidently been trained with every care, did ample justice to the large ensembles, the unaccompanied hymn, “O gladsome light,” being more especially sung in a refined and accurate manner.

The soloists, Madame Nordica, Madame Patey, Mr. Lloyd, and Mr. Watkin Mills, are more or less identified with the parts undertaken by them, and it will suffice to say that one and all did their best and materially contributed to the general success of the performance.

The Golden Legend was preceded by a concert overture from the pen of Mr. Oliver King, a promising young composer, who conducted his own work. The overture is well designed and effectively scored. It is earnest, not to say sombre, in character, and the opening theme almost suggests a funeral march, although at the end a brilliant climax in the major key is reached. Mr. King has not supplied a programme, but it may be conjectured that the struggle and final triumph of the human soul or, it may be, of a definite hero has been the subject of his as of so many other compositions.


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