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Review of a Performance from The Times
Tuesday, Nov. 14, 1871
 
CRYSTAL PALACE CONCERTS

In accordance with a new and excellent plan, which henceforth, we understand, will include in every programme something from an English pen, the audience at this concert were introduced to the music composed by Mr. Arthur S. Sullivan for the Masque referred to in the second act of the Merchant of Venice, only lately produced with much talked of success at the Prince’s Theatre, in Manchester.

Though deprived of the aid of chorus and scenic accessories, the new music by our young countryman has qualities which enable it to dispense with either. It is, in fact, spirited, charming, and full of character. That it is for the most part either melodramatic music or dance music need scarcely be added; but Mr. Sullivan can make melodramatic and dance music not only effective for the stage, but interesting to connoisseurs. This he has done in the present instance.

There are in all six numbers, so carefully knit together that they may be regarded as one homogeneous and well-considered whole. The key of the “Introduction” is also the key of the “Finale” – to musicians a recommendation in itself. It is from the “Introduction” and “Finale” that the voices required for stage representation are missed.

The other movements comprise a serenata, “Nel ciel seren,” the words for which, by Signor F. Rizzelli, have inspired Mr. Sullivan with one of the most graceful melodies that ever came from his pen; a “Bourrée,” in the style of the old masters, a grotesque dance for Pierrots and Harlequins; and a waltz. The “Finale” is preceded by some descriptive melodramatic music. 

Mr. Sullivan has aimed at, and obtained, unity by making one or two of his leading themes, as it were, common property. For example, the first phrase of the “Introduction” is afterwards frequently heard in the “Bourrée” – itself set off by contrapuntal devices characteristic of the peculiar style of that venerable dance; while the leading phrase of the vocal serenata is subsequently made use of in the waltz.

During the supposed escape of Jessica, with Lorenzo, from her father’s house, the waltz measure goes on, “pianissimo,” and thus leads up to the “finale.” The execution of the music to the Merchant of Venice, under the direction of Mr. Sullivan himself, was all that could be desired. The dance for Pierrots and Harlequins, the theme of which is given out by bassoons, violoncellos, and double-basses alone, and repeated with accompaniments for flutes, oboes, and clarinets, was encored, and the serenade, “Nel ciel seren,” was sung with genuine expression by Madame Conneau, to whom, it may be remembered, was confided the solos in M. Gounod’s cantata, Gallia, at the opening of the International Exhibition in the Albert Hall. Few, indeed, would have complained had Madame Conneau also been encored.


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