Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Choral and Vocal Collection
CD1 and CD2
Toward the Unknown Region (1906) [12.09]
Dona Nobis Pacem (1936) [36.12]

Sheila Armstrong (sop)
John Carol Case (bar)
Fantasia (quasi variazione) on the Old 104th Psalm Tune (1949) [14.17]

LP Choir, LPO/Boult
Magnificat (1932) [13.10]

Helen Watts (alto)
Ambrosian Singers
Christopher Hyde-Smith (flute)
Orchestra Nova of London/Meredith Davies
Partita for Double String Orchestra (1938-48) [19.30]
Concerto Grosso (1950) [17.28]

Tallis Fantasia (1910) [15.03]

Romance in D flat for harmonic with strings and piano (1951) [6.40]

Larry Adler (harmonica)
Eric Gritton (piano)
The Lark Ascending (1920) [13.21]

Jean Pougnet (violin)
rec. 1973, 1970, 1975, 1959, 1952. MONO (Romance and Lark). ADD
Five Tudor Portraits (1934-35) [44.53]

Elizabeth Bainbridge (alto)
John Carol Case (bar)
Bach Choir
New Philharmonia/Willcocks
Benedicite (1930) [14.12]

Heather Harper (sop)
Bach Choir
Five Variants of 'Dives and Lazarus' (1939) [11.23]

Jacques Orchestra/Willcocks
rec. 1968, 1969, 1970, ADD
Hodie - A Christmas Cantata (1953-54) [59.13]

Janet Baker (sop)
Richard Lewis (ten)
John Shirley-Quirk (bar)
Bach Choir
Choristers of Westminster Abbey
Fantasia on Christmas Carols (1912) [12.13]

John Barrow (bar)
Choir of Guildford Cathedral
String Orchestra/Barry Rose
rec. 1965-1966, ADD
CD5 **
Mass in G minor (1921) [24.22]

John Eaton (treble)
Nigel Perrin (alto)
Robin Doveton (ten)
David van Asch (bass)
Gerald FINZI (1901-1956)
Lo the full final sacrifice (1946) [14.00]

John Bowen (ten)
Roland Robertson (bass)
God is Gone Up (1951) [3.54]
Magnificat (1952) [9.22]

Graham Green; Bruce Blyth (trebles)
Arnold BAX (1883-1953)
Mater Ora Filium (1921) [10.26]
I sing of a maiden that is Makeless (1923) [3.54]
This worldes Joie (1922) [9.22]

Choir of King's College Cambridge/Willcocks, Stephen Cleobury (Bax, Finzi)
rec 1969 (RVW), 1986, ADD, DDD
An Oxford Elegy (1949) [22.03]

John Westbrook (orator)
Jacques Orchestra/Willcocks
Whitsunday Hymn (1929) [3.46]

Robin Doveton (ten)
Flos Campi (1925) [19.52]

Cecil Aronowitz (viola)
Jacques Orchestra/Willcocks
Sancta Civitas (1925) [31.16]

Ian Partridge (ten)
John Shirley-Quirk (bar)
Bach Choir
Choir of King's College, Cambridge
rec. Jan, July 1968. ADD
On Wenlock Edge () [20.15]

Robert Tear (ten)
Songs of Travel (1901) [22.56]

Thomas Allen (bar)
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)

Pleading; Three Songs; Two Songs () [15.43]
George BUTTERWORTH (1885-1918)

Love blows as the wind blows (1912) [10.00]
Robert Tear (ten)
City of Birmingham SO/Rattle (RVW); Vernon Handley (Elgar; Butterworth)
rec. 1980, 1984, DDD/ADD
CD8 and CD9
The House of Life (1903) [28.38]
Songs of Travel (1901) [26.22]
John IRELAND (1879-1962)

The Land of Lost Content (1920) [11.16]
Ivor GURNEY (1890-1937)

Down by the Salley Gardens; An Epitaph; Desire in Spring; Black Stitchel [10.23]
George BUTTERWORTH (1885-1918)

Six Songs from 'A Shropshire Lad' (1915) [13.09]
Peter WARLOCK (1894-1930)

A Prayer to St Anthony; The Sick Heart; My Own Country; Passing By; Pretty Ring Time. [9.43]
Anthony Rolfe Johnson (ten)
David Willison (piano)
rec. 1974-1975, ADD
EMI British Composers Series
EMI CLASSICS 7243 5 75795 2 0 [9CDs: 148.50 (2); 71.09; 71.34; 71.29; 77.25; 69.03; 99.46 (2)]


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This is by no means entirely Vaughan Williams. Look at the other composers represented: Butterworth, Ireland, Bax, Gurney, Warlock, Elgar, Finzi. Of that group I would only relate Butterworth and Finzi to Vaughan Williams although I know that Bax and Vaughan Williams dedicated works to each other.

This bargain box gathers together various RVW CDs from EMI’s mid-price ‘British Composers’ series and offers them shrink-wrapped in a fragile light-card box. The price is super-bargain. This must be a way of clearing slowly moving stock. Nothing wrong with that.

Of the nine CDs about seven of them are RVW and most of these feature choral or vocal music - mostly with orchestra. You should check the contents of the box because when I opened mine I found that CD5 contained the RVW Mass and various a capella pieces by Finzi and Bax rather than Vaughan Williams’ Five Mystical Songs, Finzi’s Dies Natalis and Holst’s A Choral Fantasia.

The RVW performances included come from the golden age of the RVW revival largely in the three years either side of 1972 - centenary year. Most of them are analogue and many are conducted by Sir David Willcocks. This set is almost but not quite the equivalent of that RVW LP box that for years complemented the EMI Boult RVW nine symphonies. On the one hand there was the box of the symphonies which was SLS 822 and on the other there was the predominantly Willcocks/Boult collection of the choral/orchestral works: SLS 5082.

So many of the recordings are world premieres. While Dona had been pipped at the post by Abravanel's fine version (Vanguard) and Toward the Unknown Region by Sargent (EMI) recordings of the Fantasia on the Old 104th, the Magnificat and many of the others were firsts on commercial disc.

I was brought up on the Westbrook version of An Oxford Elegy. All lovers of the English language should flock to this disc. Such a potent combination - Westbrook's voice and the sweet nostalgic music of Vaughan Williams. Flos Campi is one of RVW’s most sheerly beautiful, even sensuous, pieces. I love this version but hope that BMG will at some stage issue the Frederick Riddle version on CD. It sued to be on an RCA LP with the suite for viola and orchestra.

Toward the Unknown Region is early RVW and establishes his prolonged affair with the poetry of Walt Whitman; as close and sustained as Finzi's with Hardy’s poetry. The sound securely distinguishes the various sumptuously rounded strands of serenity and ecstasy. Finzi surely drank deep of this music for it can be heard in Ode to St Cecilia and In Terra Pax. Despite the analogue hiss this superbly sung and recorded version has not been bettered.

Boult's has the white-toned Sheila Armstrong, The London Philharmonic Choir puts British reserve aside for the savagery of "Beat! Beat! Drums …" achieving an effect not that far removed from the chaotic rammy of Bliss’s The City Arming from Morning Heroes(Royal Liverpool Phil Choir). This is a much more effective image of apocalyptic violence than Franz Schmidt's contemporary Book of the Seven Seals and is more emotionally expressive than Eugene Goossens’ The Apocalypse. John Carol Case, who in five years, was to find his vibrato difficult to subdue (Lyrita Recorded Edition, Finzi Let us Garlands Bring) is here controlled and rounded in tone. I think William Christensen on the Abravanel recording (Vanguard) has more humanity and emotional baggage. The singing of the words "… the hands of the sisters: death and night" is very touching. Boult handles the Dirge for Two Veterans with implacable funereal nobility and it remains intriguing to compare his friend Holst’s setting of the same text.

The Fantasia has a crashingly rebellious solo piano part despatched with darkling concentration by Peter Katin who, in a handful of years time, was to record Finzi's similarly unrepentantly gawky Grand Fantasia and Toccata for Lyrita. I recall the original EMI LP which had Boult's version of the RVW Ninth Symphony as the coupling. The Fantasia is an oddball work yet full of interest. It is a late piece echoing with strange sonorities and vocal writing from the Five Herbert Songs - Let all the world … in particular.

The Magnificat introduces Meredith Davies as conductor. Here the linkages are with the Sinfonia Antartica notably in the succulently rounded Gallic flute playing of Christopher Hyde-Smith. The Ambrosian Singers remind us of the choral writing in An Oxford Elegy and especially in Flos Campi.

Three string works take up the first ten tracks of CD2. The Partita is not reckoned as prime RVW - it tends to coldness - but the darting bustle of the scherzo ostinato is likeable in a disconcertingly Britten-like way. The Concerto Grosso is a much more emotional piece where humanity smiles warmly. This is affecting and instantly accessible but it is not the equal of the electrically rapturous Del Mar Bournemouth recording (EMI). Boult keeps a lid on the emotionalism which the earlier recording happily sheds to loveable and exciting effect.

Sargent's Tallis Fantasia is now approaching 65 years old. However it sounds fine and while it lacks Barbirolli's rapt intensity and ecstatic concentration it is no mean performance … if slightly hurried.

The Romance gives us Larry Adler in experimental form, his harmonica wailing and ululating. It is almost as if he was serenading Scott's Antarctic penguins. It is an engaging fantasy of a piece - perhaps rather cold but full of strangeness. The recording now shows its age. Another Romance - this time for violin and orchestra - ends the CD.

The late 1960s saw an eruption of recording activity as 1972 (RVW’s centenary year) hove in sight. Five Tudor Portraits at last secured its recording premiere. It is difficult to imagine it being done any better although I concede that Elizabeth Bainbridge is far too matronly and tends to squall. John Carol Case is in strong voice. He is delectable in the sweetly light ballad My Pretty Bess. Listen to his meshing with the chorus in the last two minutes of the ballad. It is still something of a shock to encounter the direct Orff quotation in the Burlesca. However the fulcrum of the work is the Romanza (a favourite RVW term) Jane Scroop - Her Lament for Philip Sparrow. This is sensuous, touching, exotic - a cortège of symphonic gravity. There is some slight choral scrappiness in the faster tongue-twisting passages but exuberance exonerates and exalts all.

The Benedicite makes a joyfully euphoric impression and Heather Harper is wondrously clear and splendidly ripe of tone. The Dives and Lazarus Variants are a noble work extremely aptly turned by the Jacques Orchestra.

John Barrow contributes his sweetly cavernous baritone to the Christmas Carol Fantasia. The hit of the work is certainly On Christmas Night (third movement). A more ambitious and probing seasonal work is the late Hodie termed A Christmas Cantata. This is another anthology work. The recorded balance is miraculously right-feeling in the pipe organ accompanied choral narration - Now the birth of Jesus Christ. This is a work that should be done far more often as should that other Christmas cantata: Cyril Rootham's Milton-based Ode on the Morning of Christ's Nativity. The highlights of Hodie are Janet Baker's It was the winter wild (Milton), John Shirley-Quirk's baritone in the setting of Hardy's Oxen, kin with the Five Mystical Songs, the Herbert setting of Pastoral (again Shirley-Quirk), Bright Portals of the Sky (directly referenced to the film music for ‘Scott of the Antarctic’ and indeed to Grace Williams' scena Fairest of Stars) and regally exhilarating in Milton's Ring Out ye crystal spheres. The clamour of bells, large and small, and of celebration prepare any audience to go out glowing into the snowy night and home.

There are three CDs of English song: the first with orchestra; the second and third with piano alone. In all three cases the music is only partly by Vaughan Williams. Robert Tear (the head-line British tenor for many years) is dark-toned and faintly nasal. The orchestral contribution is frankly superb but my preference would be for the lighter-hued voice of Gerald English (Unicorn n.l.a. but you may be able to track it down). In any event Tear’s is a lovely performance and Bredon Hill with its serene shimmer has not been done better. The Songs of Travel are rooted back into Parry. The orchestrations (three) are by RVW and the rest by Roy Douglas. Thomas Allen shows a very clean pair of heels to Robert Tear managing a lovely honeyed lightness. "I have trod the upward and the downward slope" neatly echoes the decay of the tramping theme of "The Vagabond" giving a rounded sense to the cycle.

Tear returns for the Elgar songs which are pretty shards but no more. Perhaps Was it some golden star rises transiently above such trivia. These are light ballads with nothing of the symphonic or scena quality of some Elgar songs. The Two Songs Op. 60 have the orchestral flourish of the Second Symphony. Best of all however is the Butterworth song cycle Love Blows as the wind blows. Tear is good in this although he does not trounce Brian Rayner Cook's 1972 broadcast in the BBC's ‘England’s Green and Pleasant Land’ series; granted though that the BBC recording was with string quartet. Few will be able to resist the soft-breathed accompaniment and nostalgic words of Coming up from Richmond. The hairs on the back of my neck raise even now at the word "I met a ghost today". This is a perfect little song matched only by Wenlock Edge.

The two CD set has Anthony Rolfe Johnson and David Willison; the latter best known as Benjamin Luxon's accompanist. Here the tenor is as dark-tinged as Tear, but so much sweeter, less acidulous, keyed more effectively into the honey and eschewing the vinegar. Words are not provided for any of these songs. Of course you have the words of Songs of Travel on the Tear disc but that is the only 'overlap'.

The RVW Mass is cleanly and coldly sung as befits its Medievalist origins. The Finzi and Bax pieces are good to have in such transparently recorded versions. The Bax in particular could have benefited from a larger choir and a more delirious and ecstatic, less English approach. Those final coruscating ‘alleluias’ should go with more colour and fervour.

The notes are strong contributions laced with fascination and information by Michael Kennedy.

Rob Barnett

Gerard Hoffnung CDs

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