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Review of a Performance in Liverpool from The Times
Friday, October 2, 1874.


The performance this morning in the Philharmonic Hall will be remembered as a distinguishing incident of the first “Liverpool Triennial Festival.” A great work by a young composer, born in our midst, was taken in hand, and it must be admitted that the care bestowed upon its preparation has been earnest and unremitting.

The Light of the World was written for the Birmingham Festival of 1873. The reception given to it on that occasion can hardly be forgotten by any amateur who had the good fortune to be present at the magnificent performance directed by the composer himself in the Birmingham Town-hall. What was said about the oratorio then might be said over again without modifying in the slightest degree the first impression. Mr. Sullivan has made certain curtailments – abridging this piece and omitting that; but although the oratorio, which, by reason of the nature of its subject, necessitates a more than ordinary quantity of declamatory recitative, is inevitably long, we cannot entirely approve the modifications which, owing to circumstances the author has felt himself compelled to make. It would be useless to signalize these in detail, because in the majority of instances, they were virtually uncalled for. Mr. Sullivan, however, is himself the responsible authority for such revisions; but that he might have been more advantageously employed in writing a second oratorio than in recasting his first is unquestionable. The thing as it originally stood was excellent – why, then, revise it?

The Light of the World to-day created much the same impression as at Birmingham last year. The general conviction when the young musician first brought it out was that a new work of genius had been added to the repertory of sacred music, and this impression was strengthened by to-day’s performance in the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall. The choruses, by no means easy to execute with the needful precision and correctness, though here and there some wavering intonation could be detected, were for the most part all that could be desired. The splendid climax to the first part of the oratorio, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” was a case in point, and caused it the more to be regretted that any part should have been left out. The trio [that] prepares the climax referred to is essential to the symmetry of the most effective, ingeniously constructed pieces of its kind modern art has produced, allowing, moreover, that the first chorus of shepherds (“Blessed art thou among Women”), following immediately upon the chorus of angels, “Glory to God,” loses little or nothing by comparison.

It is not quite so easy to explain the absence of the second chorus of shepherds (“The whole Earth is at Rest”), which, besides being charming in itself, is exquisitely in keeping with the context; nor are we willing to dispense with “He maketh the Sun to rise,” terminating the scene in the synagogue (Nazareth), or the unaccompanied chorus, “The Lord is risen,” one of the most impressive numbers in that at the “Sepulchre.” Our object at this moment, however, is to say a word or two about the performance, which on the whole not only afforded unequivocal gratification to the audience, but most satisfied the composer himself, who conducted it. Enough has been stated about the chorus, the members of which only require a more familiar acquaintance with the work to be able to render it in perfection. Nor is it essential to add that everything allotted to the orchestra was executed just as the composer himself could have desired.

The leading parts – intrusted to Miss Edith Wynne, Madame Patey, Mr. Santley, and Mr. Sims Reeves – were faultlessly rendered throughout. The quartet of oratorio singers, represented by these eminent artists, could hardly be matched in Europe; to single out one from the rest when all were beyond reproach would be invidious; what has been briefly stated will therefore suffice for the present. A more effective performance of a work deserving all attention has rarely been listened to, and when, after the National Anthem had been sung, and the Duke of Edinburgh, who remained till the end, had been saluted with cheers never wanting to a member of the Royal family coming forward to show sympathy for things that interest the general public, Mr. Sullivan was also honoured with the recognition justly his due.

The Duke left Liverpool by special train a few hours after the oratorio. His frequent attendance at the Philharmonic Hall has given universal satisfaction.

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