Mstation Classical Reviews

Valid RSS pre Dec 04 reviews are here

Sat, 09 Dec 2006

Vaughan Williams


Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)

Toward the Unknown Region (Song for Chorus and Orchestra) [11.39]

Willow Wood (Cantata for Baritone and Orchestra) [13.55]

The Voice out of the Whirlwind (Motet for Chorus and Orchestra) [5.15]

Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus (for Strings and Harp) [11.38]

The Sons of Light (Cantata for Chorus and Orchestra) [19.24]

Roderick Williams (baritone)

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra / David Lloyd Jones

rec Feb 2005, Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, England DDD

NAXOS 8.557798 [61.51]

It is quite remarkable that in the early 21st century there are still works by a composer of the importance of Ralph Vaughan Williams that have not been recorded. Thus, this Naxos disc steals a march on many others by presenting the Cantata for Baritone and Orchestra Willow Wood on disc for the first time. It is a substantial work making use of four interlinked sonnets from the collection The House of Life by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, a source of texts for a number of VW's early works for voices and orchestra. This is classic VW stuff, contrasting the bluff and vigorous writing for baritone redolent of his Songs of Travel with the sublime sound of a women's chorus, particularly effective when they vocalise without text.

The chorus has a few rougher patches in the opening work, Toward the Unknown Region wherein the tenors are a little strained, albeit in extremely climactic music. This is stuff of the sort that David Lloyd Jones does very well - anybody who has heard his acclaimed Bax Symphonies cycle on Naxos will be familiar with his powers to sculpt these English works into something very impressive. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic rises to the occasions. This orchestra has had some rough times over recent years, but the early 21st century seems to see them coming round the corner of those, and this recording has them in excellent sound. Especially pleasing is a fine reading of Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus - undoubtedly one of VW's best orchestral works, in the same sort of vein as the famous Tallis Fantasia. Here the great tune “Dives and Lazarus” (as used for the hymn “I heard the voice of Jesus say”) sweeps along with consummate majesty, and VW's treatment of the variations (or “variants” as he calls them, for they are more changes of mode than real variations of the original material) shows the same mastery of space and expanse that was so striking in the Tallis Fantasia.

The Voice out of the Whirlwind, while a very fine work, suffers from some rather variable intonation in the choir, who are not really on a par with the quality of the orchestra. There is little chance of hearing the words in this, unfortunately. The Cantata The Sons of Light is another major work not well known. Possibly suffering from having been composed for a schools choir festival, VW makes no concessions to the age of performers and the work is a large-scale composition of considerable interest, here given a performance that is worthy of repeated listening and should help rescue an important piece of VW's output.

© 2006 Peter Wells

[] permanent link