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Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
The Early Chamber Music

Piano Quintet in C minor for piano, violin, viola, cello and double bass (1903) [30'30]
Nocturne and Scherzo for string quintet (1906) [10'18]
Suite de Ballet for flute and piano (edited Roy Douglas) (1913-1924?) [5'50]
Romance and Pastorale - for violin and piano (c1914) [8'59]
Romance for viola and piano (c1914)
String Quartet in C minor (1898) [25'27]
Quintet in D major for clarinet, horn, violin, cello and piano (1898) [24'50]
Scherzo for string quintet (1904) [5'57]
Three Preludes on Welsh Hymn Tunes (Household Music) for string quartet (1940/41)
The Nash Ensemble: Philippa Davies flute, Richard Hosford clarinet; Richard Watkins horn; Marianne Thorsen violin; Elizabeth Wexler violin (string quintet; Preludes); Simon Blendis violin (String Quartet in C minor); Lawrence Power, Garfield Jackson viola (string quintet)
Recorded in Henry Wood Hall on 25-27 June; 15-18 July 2002. DDD
HYPERION CDA67381/2 [2CDs: 134'16: 62'09+72'16]


There is bound to be almost as much celebrity attracted by this set as by the gradually unfurling Hickox-RVW-Chandos series. Quite justifiable too. After all the outpouring of so many new Vaughan Williams works in one set is hardly a commonplace event.

For those of you of a certain age or whose interest in Vaughan Williams was piqued in the early 1970s or late 1960s the catalogue vista for this composer has been utterly transformed and so that process continues. There is still plenty of territory to be covered and I look forward to the first recording of the orchestral version of the Folk Songs of the Four Seasons, of the complete orchestral music for film (Chandos are making major inroads here), even of a series devoted to the complete music for radio productions of which the music for the BBC Home Service adaptation of The Mayor of Casterbridge should be well worth catching. All in due time.

Your expectations in the case of these chamber works need to be tempered, tuned or adjusted to reflect the fact that these chamber pieces are early works predating Towards the Unknown Region and A Sea Symphony each of which carries a whiff of Stanford and a larger helping of Parry.

My fearful expectations of a Brahmsian brew were misplaced in the case of the Piano Quintet. In fact the music is cast in a mould rather similar to Howells' piano quartet of some ten years later, exultant and surging with romantic power. There is a Parryesque quality here which I can best compare with that composer’s First Symphony (William Boughton's long-vanished Nimbus recording represents the work best). The quintet ends in confident understatement rather than romantic exclamation.

The earliest work is the String Quartet of 1898. Michael Kennedy's note suggests similarities with Dvořák and I would not disagree although I would add that there is a Mozartian steadiness and dignity about the writing too. This piece offers a fascinating insight but is by no means de rigueur for RVW partisans. The Brahmsian expectations are soundly delivered in the case of the D Major Quintet; something about the forthright French horn of Richard Watkins, Ian Brown's sturdy piano role and Richard Hosford's clarinet playing. This is a work that would pair rather well with the Brahmsian delights of John Ireland's Sextet. The wittily well-pointed Intermezzo is succeeded by the sentiment-heavy andantino and the flighty and flirtatious bustle of the finale. The work ends with a regal flourish.

The 1904 Scherzo for string quintet seethes with brusque energy counter-pointed by an appealingly Brahmsian second subject - lilting and aristocratic. There are some fascinating effects to be heard as in the juicy harmonics of the dream section at 2.40 et seq.

The bipartite Nocturne and Scherzo is much more folk-inflected with a moving Nocturne that carries hints of the Scandinavian nights. The buzzing Mendelssohnian tension of the Scherzo is brilliantly played and most vividly captured by the Hyperion team.

The Suite of simple miniatures is succulently voiced by Philippa Davies. Much of it is ‘clothed’ in rum-ti-tum - all smocks and haystacks - but the Improvisation first movement has more depth. Similar rural rides can be found in the Hymn Tune preludes but there is some affecting writing in the Aberystwyth variations (finale, tr. 12 CD2)

Not surprisingly, given the 1914 provenance, the Romance and Pastorale (and for that matter the Tertis-intended Romance for viola) is warm and subtle; flowing with the flavours and atmosphere of summer streams and warm byres - only a shade away from The Lark Ascending.

These are world premiere recordings of the Piano Quintet, Nocturne and Scherzo, String Quartet in C minor, Wind and Piano Quintet and Scherzo. While the Three Preludes on Welsh Hymn Tunes have been recorded before this is the premiere recording of the string quartet version.

As executants the Nash take no prisoners - holding nothing back. There is no suspicion of a museum case production. The performers meet the music full on and play as if the young composer of the first and second decades of the last century were in the room with them. This is one of Hyperion's most commanding productions. Extremely impressive and easily recommendable to the composer’s many enthusiasts world-wide.

Rob Barnett

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