Arthur Sullivan's music for The Tempest reveals the 19-year-old as a serious talent. Yes, the music owes something to Mendelssohn--the Prelude, particularly, takes a few major hints from the Fingal's Cave Overture. But the melodic inspiration is fresh, the orchestration vivid, the dance music aptly toe-tapping, and the brief postlude curiously moving in a way that actually anticipates the more reflective moments of the Sibelius that follows. Coupling these two works, one a barely known first orchestral essay, the other a late but still curiously neglected masterpiece, was a brilliant idea--a "concept" album that really makes good musical sense.
The playing order of theRead more Sibelius also is very intelligent: Prelude (Storm), Suite No. 2, then Suite No. 1, which ends with a reprise of the Prelude's storm music. Happily, both here and in the Sullivan, the performances are as smart, atmospheric, and vibrant as the music itself. Caliban's Song and the storm episodes have impressive power, and they're stunningly recorded in vintage Reference Recordings fashion. The more lyrical moments, such as the Berceuse and the various song transcriptions, are all beautifully played by the Kansas orchestra. The wind soloists are uniformly fine (listen to the flute in The Oak Tree, from Suite No. 1), and the harp, so important to the music's "magic" elements, is wonderfully present without ever sounding spotlit. Only "Miranda" from Suite No. 2 sounds a touch edgy in the violins, the tempo slightly rushed. This and any other minor quibbles certainly aren't enough to prevent me from recommending this new release in the strongest possible terms. It's a winner in all respects.