Head of Keyboard Studies, Professor David Owen Norris tells about his new CD release.
The launch concert of our double CD of Sir Arthur Sullivan’s songs on the Chandos label is a major staging-post on a long journey. I’ve been playing Sullivan’s music for many years, of course, and In the course of my investigations I’ve written about Tennyson and Lewis Carroll, I’ve recorded all the songs of Sullivan’s teacher Sir William Sterndale Bennett, I’ve put on concert series featuring Sullivan along with other composers who studied in Leipzig, and I’ve presented a whole day devoted to Sullivan’s songs for Gresham College. I even persuaded our Nuffield Theatre here at Southampton to put on the opera that Sullivan’s other teacher, John Hullah, wrote with Charles Dickens, The Village Coquettes – the first professional production for 150 years. Quite a bit of context, then, and the more you find out about the context, the more the music means to you, and the more you can make it mean to today’s audience – one of the strong points about studying music at a university, of course.
It’s great to work with the young opera singers on the disc – Mary Bevan, Ben Johnson and Ashley Riches. The Sir Arthur Sullivan Society, which financed the recording, was keen to involve the rising generation in Sullivan’s music, and these were their top choices. I’ve enjoyed working with them before. Ben I taught at the Royal College of Music, and I’ve had some fine concerts with him since – he sings some of my own song cycles, and just last autumn we performed Schumann in the Oxford Lieder Festival. Ashley took part in my Gresham College Sullivan Day when he was still a student, and he’s just recorded the solo role in my political oratorio, Turning Points. And Mary I first met some years ago in the White Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace, filming at Queen Victoria’s golden piano for David Starkie’s Music & Monarchy.
“… Norris’s singers reflect the directness of the music with a sincerity in performance that proves persuasive throughout. The vocal challenges are greater than some might suppose… Mary Bevan … is in glorious voice throughout… Norris is finely alert throughout to the stylistic shifts and complexities of Sullivan’s piano-writing, as well as providing scholarly booklet-notes. They contain a hint that another set of Sullivan songs might be forthcoming: I eagerly await it, if so.” Tim Ashley, Gramophone Magazine (see full review here).
We recorded the songs over four days at Potton Hall in Suffolk – a lovely place to be, and a good place to relax between takes, listening to the nightingales. So the four of us are a happy family, as it were, and much looking forward to the launch at the Conway Hall in London on Tuesday 25th April.