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Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872–1958)
Choral Works
CD 1
Serenade to Music (1938) [13:34]
Five Mystical Songs (1911) (2 Easter [5:25] 3 I got me flowers [2:51] 4 Love bade me welcome [5:53] 5 The Call [1:59] 6 Antiphon [3:12])
Fantasia on Christmas Carols (1912) [12:26]
Flos Campi (1925) [22:13]
Elizabeth Connell (soprano); Amanda Roocroft (soprano); John Mark Ainsley (tenor); Martyn Hill (tenor); Maldwyn Davies (tenor); Anne Dawson (soprano); Linda Kitchen (soprano); Alan Opie (baritone); Gwynne Howell (bass); Sir Thomas Allen (baritone); Sarah Walker (mezzo); Catherine Wyn-Rogers (mezzo); John Connell (bass); Diana Montague (mezzo); Jean Rigby (mezzo); Arthur Davies (tenor)
Nobuko Imai (viola)
Sir Thomas Allen (baritone) (Carols; Mystical Songs)
English Chamber Orchestra/Matthew Best
CD 2
Dona nobis pacem - A Cantata for soprano and baritone soli, chorus and orchestra (1936) [35:05]
1 Agnus Dei [3:10] 2 Beat! beat! drums! [3:44] 3 Reconciliation [6:34]
4 Dirge for two veterans [10:45] 5 The Angel of Death has been abroad [10:46]
Four Hymns for tenor, viola and strings (1914) []
6 Lord! Come away! [4:20] 7 Who is this fair one? [4:27] 8 Come love, come Lord [3:47] 9 Evening Hymn [4:04]
Toward the Unknown Region (1907) [12:44]
O clap your hands [3:07]
Lord, thou hast been our refuge [7:46]
Judith Howarth (soprano); Sir Thomas Allen (baritone) (Dona)
John Mark Ainsley (tenor); Matthew Souter (viola) (Hymns)
Sir Thomas Allen (baritone) (Lord)
Corydon Orchestra/Matthew Best
CD 3
The Pilgrim’s Progress — A Bunyan Sequence for three speakers, treble solo, chorus and orchestra (text and music adapted by Christopher Palmer from the 1942 radio version of The Pilgrim’s Progress) (1942) [64:00]
1 Prologue [5:17]; 2 The Kingdom [3:17]; 3 The Gate [2:59]; 4 The Way [4:24]; 5 The Shepherd [3:40] (Aidan Oliver (treble); David Rix (clarinet); 6 The Palace Beautiful [4:52] Ursula Howells (speaker); 7 Apollyon [5:03]; 8 Vanity Fair [6:11]; 9 The Trial [7:19]; Giant Despair [4:43]; The Delectable Mountains, Christine Barratt (soprano); Joy Logan (alto); John Bowen (tenor) [14:20]; Ursula Howells (speaker) Epilogue [1:41]
Sir John Gielgud (speaker); Richard Pasco (speaker)
City of London Sinfonia/Matthew Best
CD 4
A song of thanksgiving (1944) [15:57]
Three Choral Hymns [12:31] (Easter Hymn [3:05]; Christmas Hymn [5:50]; Whitsunday Hymn [3:24])
Magnificat (1932) [14:11]
The shepherds of the delectable mountains (1920) [21:37]
The Hundredth Psalm [7:46]
Sir John Gielgud (speaker); Lynne Dawson (soprano); The London Oratory Junior Choir; John Scott (organ) (Song)
Catherine Wyn-Rogers (mezzo); Duke Dobing (flute); Roger Judd (organ) (Magnificat)
Bryn Terfel (baritone); Alan Opie (baritone); Adrian Thompson (tenor); Jonathan Best (bass); John Mark Ainsley (tenor); Linda Kitchen (soprano) (Shepherds) City of London Sinfonia/Matthew Best
rec. 18-19 February (Serenade, Fantasia, Mystical Songs); 4 June (Flos Campi) 1990; 15 November 1992 (Toward the Unknown Region); 10, 11, 12 June 1993 (Dona); 21-22 November 1990 (Pilgrim). DDD
originally released individually as CDA66420; CDA66655 and CDA66511 respectively. CDA66569: now deleted.
HYPERION CDS44321/4 [4 CDs: 68:16 + 76:26 + 64:00 + 72:57]


Experience Classicsonline

This four-disc set from Hyperion presents some of Vaughan Williams’s loveliest music in recordings made between 1990 and 1993. The Corydon Singers and various orchestras perform under the baton of Matthew Best.

The first disc opens with the gorgeous Serenade to Music, with an incredible line-up of sixteen soloists, including Jean Rigby, John Mark Ainsley, Thomas Allen, Alan Opie and Catherine Wyn-Rogers. The orchestra is the English Chamber Orchestra. The work was “composed for and dedicated to Sir Henry Wood on the occasion of his jubilee” and performed at his jubilee concert, in which a number of top London orchestras and choral societies took part, along with sixteen of the elite singers of the day (including Astra Desmond, Isobel Bailey and Heddle Nash – the solos in Serenade were written specifically for the singers’ individual voices). The wonderful words are taken from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. Rachmaninov – who was present – commented afterwards that he had “never before been so moved by music”. It must have been an amazing occasion, and we catch a glimpse of the poignancy of it through the exquisite recording here – the work radiantly performed, and sung with infinite sweetness. It is followed by exemplary performances of the Five Mystical Songs with Thomas Allen as soloist, the Fantasia On Christmas Carols and an intense and passionate rendition of the much-loved Flos Campi. The performance of Dona Nobis Pacem, which opens the second disc, is harrowing and fiery, with Judith Howarth and Thomas Allen as the brilliant soloists. The words – an entreaty for peace as opposed to the devastation of man, are drawn from the Bible and from the mystical poet Walt Whitman. The ensuing Four Hymns, sung beautifully here by John Mark Ainsley, with Matthew Souter viola soloist, set words by seventeenth century poets, with the final song a translation by Robert Bridges from the Greek. Walt Whitman’s poetry features again in Toward the Unknown Region, Vaughan Williams’s first major choral work, a setting of Whispers of Heavenly Death, It is here given an atmospheric and tender performance. A joyful rendition of O Clap your Hands follows, and the disc concludes with the motet, Lord Thou Hast Been Our Refuge. The orchestra is the Corydon Orchestra, also with the Corydon Singers and Matthew Best. A Bunyan Sequence fills the third disc – an adaptation made by Christopher Palmer of Vaughan Williams’s 1942 radio version of Pilgrim’s Progress. Sir John Gielgud (as in the original 1942 radio programme), Richard Pasco and Ursula Howells (the composer’s daughter) are the three speakers; Aidan Oliver is the excellent treble, and Matthew Best conducts the Corydon Singers and the City of London Sinfonia. It is a profoundly moving work, and performance. The speakers offer a hint of old-fashioned refinement, sophistication and polish – suave, nostalgic, and overwhelmingly noble. The majestic and poignant Song of Thanksgiving opens the final disc, and continues Sir John Gielgud’s inclusion in the set. The texts – set for speaker, soprano (here, Lynne Dawson), organ (John Scott), orchestra, chorus and children’s choir (the London Oratory Junior Choir) – includes verses from the Bible, Kipling and Shakespeare, appropriate to the occasion: the end of the Second World War. This wonderful work is here given an exultant performance – the only sporadic problem being the slight inaudibility of the orator when speaking over the orchestra and choir. The Three Choral Hymns for tenor solo (here an admirable John Bowen), chorus and orchestra follows – hymns for Easter, Christmas and Whitsun, with texts by the sixteenth century Bishop Miles Coverdale, and the Magnificat for contralto (Catherine Wyn-Rogers), women's choir, flute (Duke Dobing) and orchestra. Another version of Pilgrim’s Progress ensues – The Shepherds of the Delectable Mountains, described as a “pastoral episode” and an “operatic scena”. Again, the best singers are rolled out - Bryn Terfel surprised and impressed me with his sensitivity, and his supporting cast - of Alan Opie, Adrian Thompson, Jonathan Best, John Mark Ainsley and Linda Kitchen - is super. The ending is magical – a combination of the most gorgeous music and utterly compelling and outstanding music-making – all artists clearly having an excellent understanding of the piece. The proceedings end with the Hundredth Psalm – an appropriately celebratory and rousing conclusion to a splendid set.

These are without doubt benchmark recordings. All performances are of the very highest standard, and the musicians and speakers have total commitment to the glorious music. Unrivalled - I can hardly see how this set could be bettered!

Em Marshall

see also Review by Rob Barnett


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