George Vass / Yvonne Fontane / Robert Johnston / Sally Silver / Ulster Orchestra

Donald Tovey: The Bride of Dionysus

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Ardent Anglophiles must be grateful for excerpts from Donald Tovey's three-act opera The Bride of Dionysus, but they could also find themselves grateful that the CD includes only excerpts and not the entire work. The opera's melodies are banal, its harmonies insipid, its inspiration illusive, and its fabrication obvious. Composed inch by inch between 1907 and 1918, Tovey's opera is a carefully considered synthesis of Massenet's melodies, Mendelssohn's counterpoint, and Brahms' harmonies encased in Wagnerian-styled orchestrations. In this way, it resembles sausage, and as such, a little goes a long way. The performers, led by George Vass, are doing their best with the material. If Vass' conducting seems vague, wavering, and indecisive, that is because those are qualities inherent in the work. The Ulster Orchestra's playing is less than satisfying, probably because of the score's complexity and its unfamiliarity. The soloists sound more than somewhat stilted, but the archaic text and demanding tessitura are likely to blame. Superbly recorded in ringing digital sound by Dutton, Tovey's The Bride of Dionysus will no doubt be embraced by ardent Anglophiles, but after hearing this recording, it's questionable whether they will embrace her again.

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