If you are looking for an accomplished and generous
collection of Vaughan Williams' songs you cannot go far wrong with this.
The performances are always pleasing and in some cases much more than
this. The Rolfe Johnson Wenlock Edge sounds very well indeed
though his voice lacks the smooth poignant 'blade' and impeccable breath
control of Ian Partridge on the EMI Classics reference recording.
His Clun is the best I have ever heard with its sense of sun-soaked
tired consummation. I admired Keenlyside's Herbert songs (especially
the door he opens on the very British ecstasy of Rise Heart)
but really missed the choir and orchestra that goes with Shirley-Quirk's
EMI version. This baritone and piano version seems like an outline sketch
for the greater work - a reminder of how the expanded version sounds
rather than a self-sufficient work.
Of the other solo songs there is a mix of familiar
and not so. It was a Lover and Dirge for Fidele (i.e.
‘Fear no more!’) are duets for the two men and are superb though vying
with Finzi's settings from the cycle Let Us Garlands Bring. Two
of the other songs (The Lawyer and Searching for Lambs)
are with the probing solo violin of the Duke's leader, Louisa Fuller.
Both are folksy, yielding and humane settings. Searching for lambs
is a breathtakingly beautiful setting with the composer well in
the idiom he was to adopt for his other Housman cycle 'Along the
Field'. The two religious songs preceding the Herbert cycle have
John Metcalfe's viola as accompaniment. Come love come Lord is
touchingly devotional and those who know their Summertime on Bredon
will recognise some of the music. The Four Last Songs are
represented by Tired - yet another lovely song in which the words
I shall remember firelight on your sleeping face are fixed forever
with Vaughan Williams' music. The Splendour falls is a simpler
setting than Britten's; more like Gurney. The water mill features
the gentle chunter of the mill wheel and a memorably serenading cantilena.
Then at the other extreme in Nocturne RVW surprises us with the
misty dissonances of his Whitman setting (about as far away as you can
get from the Parryan stodge of A Sea Symphony). Here he coasts
along the shores of Schoenberg's Hanging Gardens cycle.
This is the best yet in this garlanded series rescued
from Collins Classics’ list of the dead. Naxos can preen themselves
on having won this line and we can be grateful that a premium quality
series now emerges on bargain price Naxos complete with good notes and
full texts. This is the most pleasing and emotionally affecting collection
yet. It is no fault of the performers but the Somervell songs (8.557113)
are lack-lustre gems. The Walton disc (8.557112) is good but Façade
in any hands, it must be admitted, palls very quickly. A masterly collection
- quiet consummation indeed!