Coleridge-Taylor said that he was first attracted to Hiawatha by the funny words. They, and the funny rhythms—occasionally too the funny lines such as '''Kaw', they said, 'we don't believe it'''—are generally our own first memories, and quite often the only ones. That is surely unjust to the poem.... There is no problem about understanding why [the music] should have been so popular with choral societies and their audiences: 'a good sing', not difficult but providing plenty for the choir to do (on their feet most of the time, and no boring da capo arias to sit through), a distinctive flavour making it a special experience, strong melodic phrases, some drama and eventually, with Hiawatha's Farewell, an awareness of deeper emotion, even aRead more gulp or two. Yet for all its mastery and conviction, the score rarely takes us beyond the world of easy entertainment. Probably best when least 'ethnic' (in intention), it quite touchingly retains its freshness and sense of adventure ....
The performance here is both spirited and sensitive. The chorus, blessed with real tenors, produce good, full-bodied tone, and the orchestral work is admirable throughout. Helen Field sings with bright clarity, the very voice of the Laughing Waters. Arthur Davies, so much our best lyric tenor for years, brings all his customary beauty of timbre, evenness of production and care for detail to the famous love-song .... Bryn Terfel, splendid in his dramatic strength and sharpness of focus, confirms that this is an excellent recording voice and leads us to hope for lots more from him (I'd like Elijah, for a start).
In all, the recording provides a new generation with a worthy and welcome introduction to this once so very familiar work. Perhaps, who knows, some enterprising impresario may even think it worthwhile to revive the costumed productions of T. C. Fairbairn which, as Kenneth Alwyn recalls in his notes, used in the interwar years to bring the war-painted, befeathered tribes of choristers from Wapping, Tooting, Penge and Cheam up for the annual event at the Royal Albert Hall in London under Great Chief Sargent.
-- Gramophone [9/1991]
The Hiawatha triptych is written in a style of Stanford, Bruch and Dvo?ák. These are picturesque cantatas -- smooth and touching diversions rather than heaven-clawing epics of the emotions. That picturesque theme was picked up in the many staged-costumed productions that continued well into the 1950s under Malcolm Sargent's musical leadership and Tom Fairbairn's stage direction. They are linked by a common style, by a choral emphasis and by some leitmotifs such as that which is dominant in the Wedding Feast and which reappears in the Departure -- at On the shore stood Hiawatha (CD2 tr.13).
The music is mostly for chorus and across the three linked works -- 33 separately tracked scenes -- only eleven feature soloists. Of course some of these are staggering hits such as the tenor aria Onaway Awake Beloved. While there can be a sternness about the ideas there is little intimation of tragedy -- nothing comparable even with Brahms’ Tragic Overture. The chorus's role is rather to recount in lovely undulating singing the story of Hiawatha, the tribes of the wasteland and of his beloved Minnehaha. While the harp provides some Tchaikovskian colour the effect is of Dvo?ák's Ludmilla and Spectre's Bride and of the early Elgar cantatas such as Caractacus and The Black Knight.... SC-T was no revolutionary but he wrote with great mastery within the compass of pleasing and well-crafted choralism. Despite its outdated idiom it is a tribute to the composer that the cantatas continued their concert life well into the 1950s. However even Sargent, that beloved high priest of the feathered head-dress, recorded only The Wedding Feast. The work had to wait until Kenneth Alwyn and Decca in the early 1990s before it was recorded complete. Alwyn was of course the natural choice as he had lead a BBC revival of the complete triptych broadcast on 31 January 1975 from the Fairfield Hall, Croydon with Stuart Burrows as the tenor....
Essential listening for those in pursuit of the English 19th century romantics especially those who need to document one of the cornerstones of choral society repertory in the first half of the last century.
The Song of Hiawatha, Op. 30by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Performer:
Helen Field (Soprano),
Arthur Davies (Tenor),
Bryn Terfel (Baritone)
Welsh National Opera Chorus,
Welsh National Opera Orchestra
Period: Romantic Written: 1898-1900; England Language: English