You are here: Archive Home > Sullivan > Major Works > The Prodigal Son > Times Review 1889
The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive   Title
Review of a Performance from The Times
Friday, September 6, 1889.


Of the four morning performances in the cathedral, to-day’s was, perhaps, the most popular, for the group of works chosen was representative of the music of three widely different schools, though all three were of modern origin. Produced at the Worcester Festival exactly 20 years ago, Sir Arthur Sullivan’s short oratorio The Prodigal Son has not been heard for a considerable number of years. The neglect into which it has fallen is due to no absence of interest in the music itself, and it is fairly certain that none of the early works of the composer of The Golden Legend could fail to attract a large audience, even apart from the continued popularity of his comic operas. The reasons of this neglect must be looked for elsewhere, but, whatever they may be, for the present revival amateurs may well be grateful.

The work has the great merit of increasing in musical interest as it proceeds, and its final numbers are incontestably its best. In the opening chorus the musical illustration of the heavenly joy over the repentant sinner lacks that solemn serenity which some of the great masters have succeeded in giving to their representations of kindred subjects. Perhaps no finer instance of this reflection of celestial joy could be given than the number for tenor solo in Bach’s “Wachet auf,” where the measure employed is actually that of a dance, and yet no touch of irreverence is felt.

The cleverest display of technical skill in Sir Arthur Sullivan’s work, though not by any means its most attractive section, is the chorus with tenor solo, “Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die,” in which the persistent figure of accompaniment is carried through with remarkable boldness and ingenuity. The use of the kettledrum to mark the rhythm of the figure is a touch worthy of the greatest masters of the orchestra.

In the contralto song “Love not the world” (beautifully sung by Miss Hilda Wilson), we trace for the first time that clear stream of melodic inspiration which gives to the best of Sir Arthur Sullivan’s work its peculiar distinction.

The soprano air which immediately succeeds this, “O that thou hadst hearkened,” is even more beautiful; its close is very striking, and in to-day’s performance the opportunities it affords were not lost by Madame Albani, whose exquisite mezza voce was admirably appropriate to the character of the recitative. Her singing of this number was one of the most remarkable features of the present festival.

The chorus “O that men would therefore praise the Lord,” with its fine canonic passage at the words “They went astray in the wilderness,” would bear comparison with almost any number in the same form, if only its spontaneity were on a level with its technical skill; it is wonderful that one who could conceive and execute a chorus of even so much breadth and sustained power as it shows, should so seldom have cared to employ the worthier forms of music. The choir were perceptibly flat at the opening of this number, but got better as it went on.

The tenor part was finely sung by Mr. Lloyd, for whom the solo “How many hired servants” was transposed from C to D flat, thus necessitating a similar alteration in the succeeding chorus; Mr. Barrington Foote succeeded in giving the high baritone part without any alteration, and the lovely, if somewhat conventional quartet, “The Lord is nigh” was sung with a perfection of balance for which Madame Albani chiefly deserves praise.

The oratorio and the effective “In Memoriam” overture which preceded it were conducted by the composer.

Archive Home | Sullivan | Major Works | The Prodigal Son

   Page modified 5 January, 2010 Copyright © 2009 The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive All Rights Reserved.