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Review of a performace of the Irish Symphony from The Times
Monday, April 16, 1866

The concert season in now in its meridian, but so, it happens, is the political season, and this fact considerably narrows the space that otherwise might be reasonably devoted to the subject. The second concert of the Musical Society of London, nevertheless, was far too interesting to be passed over without some record, however brief. Besides a very fine performance of Beethoven’s noble orchestral prelude to Göthe’s tragedy of Egmont, and another, almost unparalleled for vigour and precision, of Weber’s still more familiar and popular Der Freischütz (encored in a storm of applause), there was, for the first time, Schumann’s concerto in A minor, for violoncello with orchestral accompaniments. In this the part for the solo instrument – a part as difficult as it is ungrateful – was played by Signor Piatti with such marvellous tone and execution, such perfection of phrasing and such inimitable finesse, that hopelessly dreary as is the work itself – save and except the slow cantabile movement in F major, which joins the allegro to the finale – it was heard with unabated interest from one end to the other. Such playing as Signor Piatti’s would make anything acceptable. On his instrument he is unquestionably the master of masters.

But the feature of the concert was Mr. Arthur S. Sullivan’s new symphony in E, given recently at the Crystal Palace, under the direction of Herr Manns, with such brilliant success, and which just as successfully went through a far more trying ordeal. The audience of the Musical Society of London is almost exclusively composed of professors and cultivated amateurs, who naturally look with a distrustful eye on any new work of importance from a young and comparatively untried pen. Mr. Sullivan, nevertheless, won the sympathies of this somewhat prudish audience as triumphantly as he had already won those of the less exacting frequenters of the Crystal Palace concert-room.

But thus is easy of explanation. The symphony in E is a production of sterling and undeniable merit. It has charm in every movement – and, for the best of all reasons, because it has freshness of idea in every movement. Our own impressions of it were entirely confirmed by this second hearing, and, on the whole, we are disposed to think still higher of the symphony than before. Its melodies gain by familiarity, while the finely spun thread of its development bears closer and closer inspection. The first allegro, though occasionally diffuse, never ceases to engage attention, from the opening to the end; the andante espressivo, the instrumentation of which, always picturesque, and for the most part thoroughly well done, requires, here and there, reconsideration, is simply lovely; the scherzo, though to some a more elaborate working-out of the first theme would have been welcome, is not merely captivating, but perhaps the newest part of all; while the finale (allegro vivace e con brio) is precisely what it should be – the most spirited of the four movements.

The work, we repeat, does honour to its young composer, and the flattering welcome that has attended it will doubtless encourage him to proceed with earnest diligence in the same path. Mr. Sullivan has every cause to be satisfied with the execution of his symphony by the orchestra, so admirably directed by Mr. Alfred Mellon, who, if the composition had been his own, could not have watched over it with more fatherly anxiety and care. Nor could the young musician have been otherwise than gratified by the applause that followed movement after movement, and which in the instance of the scherzo might safely have been interpreted as an “encore.” At the conclusion of the performance Mr. Sullivan was unanimously called forward, the members of the orchestra heartily joining in the loud manifestations of approval.

There was some excellent singing by Mr. Cummings and Miss Robertine Henderson, although we cannot but think that the air of Mercadante and the duet of Bellini (La Sonnambula) were out of place at such a concert. The recitation and air from Mozart’s Idomeneo – “Zeffiretti lusinghieri” – is in place at any performance, and can hardly fail to charm when sung with such expression and correctness as by Miss Robertine Henderson, whose progress is not less marked than it is genuine. The concert ended merrily enough, with Méhul’s capital hunting-piece – the overture to La Chasse du Jeune Henri. The third concert is advertised for May 9.

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