This is an essential
purchase for Ralph Vaughan Williams
admirers as all but the Five Variants
are rarities. Willow-Wood has
not been heard in this form since 1909.
The Sons of Light has never made
it to CD. Thanks to the generosity of
The Ralph Vaughan Williams Trust, these
treasures are now available to all.
is the major selling point, however
it is a work unknown except to scholars
and specialists. Set to a poem by Rossetti
from A House of Life, it has
much in common with the sound-world
of Vaughan Williamsí other songs from
the period. Perhaps one day it will
be recorded together with the often
heard songs, for it extends their range.
The baritone sings unaccompanied for
most part, his voice alone shaping phrases
and adding colour. The female chorus
vocalizes soundlessly, blending into
the swirling strings. Like the other
Rossetti settings it tells a tale full
of dramatic imagery, though the actual
text isnít particularly coherent. It
evokes the Rossetti drawing where a
pair of lovers meet in a dark, mysterious
wood. But no matter, atmosphere is all
here. Lines like "O ye, all ye
who walk in Willow-Wood, that walk with
hollow faces burning white" are
so inherently dramatic, it hardly matters
if they donít quite tie into narrative.
Vaughan Williams simply sets them to
music without worrying too much, writing
phrases beautiful in themselves. Since
the song comprises four sets, itís possible
to avoid the question of consistency.
Roderick Williams also sings with utter
conviction. Perhaps the finest interpreter
of Vaughan Williams, he brings grace
and gravitas to the piece. This is no
Wenlock Edge, by a long shot,
but Vaughan Williams is tentatively
exploring song cycle form.
Towards the Unknown
Region is often cited as a kind
of companion piece to A Sea Symphony.
Here are the same long lines, stretching
swathes of voice and strings. Itís popular
repertoire in choral societies, for
it gives a feel of the symphony without
demanding such great resources. That
glorious finale must be a joy to sing!
Here, it is paired with Willow-Wood,
aptly illustrating the composerís different
direction, growing away from the conventional
parlour songs of Stanford and Parry.
Quite literally, the composer was daring
to "walk out to the unknown
region, where neither ground is for
feet, nor any path to follow".
are similarities with The Voice out
of the Whirlwind, written decades
later. Godís voice comes from the Whirlwind
to challenge Job. Here, though, the
composerís setting is far more assured
and sophisticated. He keeps the form
of the biblical text, and imitates the
whirlwind in turbulent circular figures.
The vocal lines are sharply defined,
the singers having to negotiate their
lines crisply and with precise attack.
Itís hard to believe that this piece
started out as ballet music: perhaps
modernist, expressionist ballet? It
certainly has character. It makes a
dramatic contrast to the melodic gentleness
of Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus.
The Voice in the Whirlwind is
strikingly fresh and original and really
should be better known.
Brass fanfares announce
The Sons of Light, dissolving
into an atmospheric display of "darkness
and light". Set to words by Ursula
Vaughan Williams, it tells the creation
story and was meant to be performed
by school choirs. It is certainly charming,
and would bear repeat performance, though
it is nowhere in the league of the other
pieces on this recording.
see also combined
review from Tony
Haywood and Christopher Howell