Hallé label shows both artistry
and acumen in this release. This is
something to celebrate among the legion
of RVW mavens. It is the first complete
recording of Vaughan Williams music
for the 1909 Cambridge University production
in Greek of the comic satire "the
Wasps" by Aristophanes. The wide
appetite of the classical music audience
for Vaughan Williams is strong and not
just in England. Rather like Britten
and Tippett his music has travelled
and enjoyed performances and nurtured
enthusiasm far and wide. Mark Elder,
who has done so much for the renaissance
of the Hallé, is to be congratulated
for his decision to associate himself
with the project and for directing with
such vitality. In a way the incongruity
of the music in relation to the plot
and satire hardly matters even where
a taste of the drama is given through
the David Pountney narration. I detect
very little satire in this music. The
music now seems inextricably and delightfully
bound up in the English countryside,
its cheeriness and its verdant beauty.
narration explodes onto the scene with
a strangulated scream of ‘Bastard!’
from the rough trade of Henry Goodman
doing his best Ray Winstone act. Some
flavour of the narration and the singing
is in tr. 5 in CD1 where the tenors
sing: ‘Could you not find any clean
underwear?’ The whole effect is of one
of those de luxe BBC Radio productions
with full orchestral apparatus as in
Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, Brecht’s Schweik
in World War Two and in Flecker’s
Hassan. The music plays over
the snores, moans, speaking, salt and
spleen of narrator Goodman. The overture
starts to mean more when one hears the
buzzing main theme sung by the chorus
in ‘When we buzz’. The Hallé
Chorus are in sterling voice singing
like a phalanx of football thugs at
one moment and classically lightly English
at another (CD1 tr. 11 1:26).
includes Acts II and III. It launches
with a delicate, tip-toe night march
purged of all absurd overtones - sheerly
delightful writing (Entr’Acte). This
continues but with the absurdist gearbox
fully engaged in The March Past of
the Witnesses. This is RVW the far-seeing
anticipating Prokofiev which he does
again at 5:10 in tr. 15 where rather
than Love for Three Oranges it
is the Classical Symphony that
is echoed/predicted. The Chorus Parabasis
(CD2 tr. 7) recalls the mellifluous
lilt of Serenade to Music and
the writing of Vaughan Williams’ teacher
Ravel. Back to spleen and bawdiness
again in Pountney’s words for Melodrama
(tr. 15): "Out of my way, you bunch
of faggots, you pussy-footing plonkers
..." And there’s more, dear reader.
This is not for the genteel auntie.
Do bear in mind that here in the sung
and spoken text you catch something
of the football terraces and of punk.
This is RVW red in tooth and claw. Then
again other sections such as the flute
and harp troubadourisms of Chorus
and Dance (tr. 15 at 00:55) recall
the writing in Sir John in Love.
At the end where Procleon snores the
effect predicts the somnolent Sir John
Falstaff. It is equally Falstaffian
- but in a different way - when he half
wakes and mutters with drooling relish:
"Show your daddy your dainty tussies
and set them all in motion." It
is a multi-faceted score - frankly fascinating.
Williams re-scored parts of the music
for the well known five movement orchestral
suite. It is that suite and the overture
by which most listeners will know some
of this music. There is no competition
for this set.
set includes the full score of 80 minutes
and incorporated dialogue of circa 25
minutes. The documentation is non-pareil
with Michael Kennedy’s essay, David
Pountney’s preface, full texts in English
only, artist profiles and a listing
of all personnel in the orchestra.
you are interested, the full study score
can be obtained from Faber Music. This
is based on the editorial work of Igor
Kennaway who back in the early 1990s
conducted one of the best ever productions
of RVW’s ‘morality’ Pilgrim’s Progress.
may find this an unnerving experience
but it works superbly well provided
you are ready for the salty dialogue.
It’s a small price to pay for the fascination
and delight of hearing so much familiar
and unfamiliar Vaughan Williams.
No. 1: Overture
Procleon: "Bastard! Bloody lickspittle!..."
No. 2: Introduction (Nocturne)
No. 3: Melodrama and Chorus
No. 4: Chorus: The Wasps’ Serenade
Procleon: "Boys, your song brings
tears to my eyes…"
No. 5: Chorus ("When we buzz it is
Procleon: "Then all hell breaks loose…"
No. 6: Chorus ("If you survive your
Procleon: "Imagine how it feels…"
No. 7: Melodrama and Chorus
Procleon: "So Sandra starts in with
that special quiet voice of his…"
No. 8: Melodrama and Chorus
No. 9: Entr’acte and Introduction
Procleon: "Well, I was in the depths
of depression, I can tell you!...
No. 10: Melodrama and Chorus
Chorus Leader: "Let the jury be seated…"
No. 11: March Past of the Witnesses
Procleon: "So, Wok, what’s the evidence?..."
No. 12: Chorus: Parabasis
No 13: Entr’acte
Procleon: "So, how do you like my
No. 14: Chorus ("His army cloak,
his field canteen…")
No. 15: Melodrama
Procleon: "Great wine they had at
No. 16: Melodrama
No. 17: Melodrama
No. 18: Chorus and Dance