Vaughan Williams’ Five Mystical Songs is, I
imagine more familiar in its choral and orchestral dress. In that form
the fervour of such lines as: "Rise, heart: thy Lord is risen…",
from the opening song, Easter; and "Let all the world in
every corner sing…", from the concluding Antiphon, are arguably
best communicated. But conversely, in this version for baritone and
piano, the quieter, more intimate central numbers, especially Love
bade me welcome and The Call, the quiet, the piety, affectingly
communicated by Simon Keenlyside, seem to be that much more convincing.
The other major cycle on this album, On Wenlock Edge, presented
in its version with string quartet, is more familiar than in its orchestral
dress. The Duke Quartet certainly convey wintry chill on Wenlock Edge
- and summer heat haze on Bredon Hill before tragic tolling bells
(beautifully, plangently communicated by Graham Johnson) turn this wonderful
song towards winter tragedy. Anthony Rolfe Johnson colours his voice
most expressively in all six numbers, full of awe and wonder and resignation
in From far, from eve and morning; plaintive as the ghostly enquirer
(with wonderful spectral accompaniment) and confident and (falsely)
comforting as the surviving usurper in Is my team ploughing –
a tour de force this performance! I have to say though that RVW’s orchestral
version bestows that much more colour and impact to this great cycle.
The concert begins and ends with both voices featured
in Shakespearean settings, coyly and floridly entwined in the opening
It was a Lover and his Lass and ends with the consolatory, lullaby-like
Dirge for Fidele, "Fear no more the heat o’ the sun…"
In between there are a further ten songs. The Lawyer,
sardonically witty, has Keenlyside as a gallant bent on tempting a maiden
with the luxury of City living against devilish fiddle trills so that
we are left in no doubt about his motives. It has to be said that RVW’s
setting of Tennyson’s The splendour falls is no match against
that of Delius who really sets those echoes flying. It is also interesting
to compare RVW’s sturdy setting of Walt Whitman’s Joy, Shipmate,
Joy with the more mystical, affecting Delius version within his
Songs of Farewell. The gently evocative The Watermill
is deservedly one of RVW’s most popular songs. The lovely nostalgic
Tired, "I shall remember firelight on your sleeping face"
is complemented by the setting of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s serene pastoral
idyll ‘Silent Noon’ raptly spun by Keenlyside, "…When twofold silence
was the song of love." Echoes of The Lark Ascending are
heard in the violin’s lines of Searching for Lambs suggesting
a heavenly union - "…We’ll join our hands in wedded bands…"
The viola of John Metcalf joins with Graham Johnson to accompany the
fervent prayers of Anthony Rolfe Johnson in Lord! Come away,
to scourge the world of evil. In the more languid Come Love, come
Lord, with its extended instrumental writing, he utters a
more supplicant plea.
Radiant performances of some of Vaughan Williams best-loved
songs. Naxos are to be congratulated for making this important Collins
Classics collection available again.
COLLINS CLASSICS THE ENGLISH SONG SERIES - REBORN
William WALTON 8.557112
Arthur SOMERVELL 8.557113
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS 8.557114
Peter WARLOCK 8.557115