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Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Mystical Songs
1. O Clap Your Hands (1920) [3:20]
2. O Taste and See (1953) [1:37]
Five Mystical Songs (1906-11) :
3. Easter [5:07]
4.  I got me Flowers [3:10]
5. Love Bade me Welcome [5:22]
6. The Call [2:01]
7. Antiphon [3:26]
8. Loch Lomond (1921) [3:55]
9. Bushes and Briars (1903) [3:21]
10. Orpheus with His Lute (1903) [2:51]
11. Silent Noon (1901) [5:07] [4:31]
12. Lord, Thou Hast Been Our Refuge (1921) [8:48]
13-18. Mass in G minor (1921) [25:31]
19. O How Amiable (1934) [4:05]
Choir of Trinity College, University of Melbourne
Australian Chamber Brass Ensemble (tracks 1, 19)
Tinalley Quartet (tracks 3-7)
Jonathon Bradley, organ and piano
Siobhan Stagg, soprano (track 2)
Michael Leighton Jones, director (baritone track 3-7)
Timothy Reynolds, tenor (track 8, Mass)
Kristy Biber, soprano (Mass)
Peter Campbell, alto (Mass)
Julien Robinson, baritone (Mass)
rec. 3-7, 10 December 2007, Trinity College Chapel, Parkville, Melbourne, Australia. DDD
ABC CLASSICS 4766906 [77:14]

 

Experience Classicsonline


The Choir of Trinity College, from University of Melbourne has built their reputation performing sacred music of the Anglican Cathedral tradition. This disc offers us a selection of anthems, motets, songs, folk songs and includes the G minor Mass. The Five Mystical Songs is performed in a version for baritone, chorus and piano quintet. The inclusion of the optional chorus here is thought likely to make this the first recording of this version.

I was trying to uncover any possible connection with Vaughan Williams to Melbourne University, the home of the Choir of Trinity College. There is a link through Fritz Hart who for many years was active as a composer, conductor and educator in Melbourne. Hart was a trusted friend of Vaughan Williams, a fellow student at the Royal College of Music (RCM) in London and an enthusiastic member of the English folksong movement. A talented group of students including Vaughan Williams, Hart, Edgar Bainton, Thomas Dunhill, Gustav Holst, John Ireland and Evlyn Howard-Jones would often meet at Wilkin’s, the Kensington tea shop, near the RCM. However, there were never any formal links between Hart and the University of Melbourne. He managed the Melbourne Conservatorium (aka Albert Street Conservatorium) founded by George Marshall-Hall, the first Ormond Professor at Melbourne University. The Conservatorium could be actually described as a rival establishment as it effectively split from the University in 1901. Soprano Dame Nellie Melba, a close friend of Hart, caused a surprise when she chose to teach with Hart at the Albert Street Conservatorium instead of Melbourne University. This was a position she kept from 1915 until her death in 1931. 

The opening track is O Clap Your Hands a jubilant motet performed here in its original ceremonial scoring for chorus, organ, brass and percussion. A setting of Psalm 47, verses 1, 2, 5-9, Vaughan Williams completed the score around 1920. The Choir of Trinity College is joined by the Australian Chamber Brass Ensemble and organ to produce a wonderful and dramatic effect. Probably the best known version of O Clap Your Hands is in the scoring for chorus and orchestra performed by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge and the English Chamber Orchestra directed by Sir David Willcocks. Recorded in the King’s College Chapel in 1966, the moving and exultant singing makes this an evergreen performance on a disc of classic status. The coupling comprises Vaughan Williams’s Five Mystical Songs and major works from Holst and Finzi with renowned tenor Wilfred Brown on EMI Classics CDM5655882. 

O Taste and See is a very brief motet marked Andante sostenuto. It is performed here in its version for unaccompanied chorus with the solo treble part sung by a soprano with organ accompaniment. A setting of a text from Psalm 34: verse 8, Vaughan Williams composed the score for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in Westminster Abbey in 1953. The choristers directed by Sir William McKie sang the motet while the new Queen took Communion. There’s beautiful singing from talented soprano Siobhan Stagg in the treble part who combines with the Trinity College chorus to create an ethereal effect. I also admire the expressive and splendidly sung version of O Taste and See from the Choir of Worcester Cathedral directed by Christopher Robinson on Chandos Collect CHAN6550.

The Five Mystical Songs from 1906/11 set texts by George Herbert. They are performed here in the version for baritone, mixed chorus and piano quintet. The premiere was given by the composer in the version with full orchestra at the Three Choirs Festival at Worcester Cathedral in 1911. In the first four the baritone soloist has the prominent role but not in the final song the Antiphon.

The opening Easter makes a deep and ecstatic impression. In I got me flowers convincing baritone Michael Leighton Jones is highly expressive, with rich timbre and clear diction. The Tinalley String Quartet and pianist Jonathan Bradley add significantly to this satisfying performance. Love bade me welcome was passionate and movingly felt. I loved the firm and steady rendition and poignancy of The Call. Antiphon is exuberantly sung, enthusiastic and so full of life. The best known account of the Five Mystical Songs in the scoring for baritone, mixed chorus and orchestra is by John Shirley-Quirk, the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge and the English Chamber Orchestra directed by Sir David Willcocks. From 1966 at the King’s College Chapel, the glorious singing makes this evergreen performance highly desirable. Of classic status this disc (mentioned above) is on EMI Classics CDM 5 65588 2. I have become fond of an alternative version of the Five Mystical Songs in the scoring for baritone, mixed chorus and orchestra from baritone Stephen Roberts, the Sinfonia Chorus and the Northern Sinfonia of England directed by Richard Hickox. That disc was recorded at Trinity Hall, Newcastle upon Tyne in 1984 on EMI (see review).

In the version of the Five Mystical Songs for baritone and piano I admire the sturdy singing of Simon Keenlyside with pianist Graham Johnson. Originally issued on Collins Classics and recorded in 1996 at the Rosslyn Chapel, London the disc has been reissued on Naxos (see review). 

Loch Lomond is one of the most popular Scottish folk-songs. Vaughan Williams made his setting in 1921 for male chorus with baritone soloist. This heart-warming score is performed here in the 1931 version for SSATB chorus with the splendidly caught tenor solo part sung by Timothy Reynolds. I often play the captivating version of Loch Lomond for bass and mixed choir performed by Michael George and the Holst Singers from 1995. It’s part of a superb collection of part-songs, folksongs and Shakespeare settings on Hyperion CDA66777. 

Vaughan Williams wrote down Bushes and Briars - a traditional folk tune sung by shepherd Charles Pottipher - in 1903 at Ingrave, Essex. Published in 1908 the version performed here is for unaccompanied male choir. I was struck in this case by the superbly matched tones of the choir of Trinity College. There is an enthralling account of Bushes and Briars for tenor and male chorus sung by Ian Bostridge and the Holst Singers from 1995 on Hyperion CDA66777. 

Orpheus with His Lute is a Shakespeare setting from act 3, scene 1 of the history play Henry VIII. Vaughan Williams wrote the original song setting for Miss Lucy Broadwood; published in 1903. This version for woman’s SSAA chorus with piano accompaniment was arranged by Archibald McDowell in 1925. Brightly sung, with an uplifting feel, the choir of Trinity College convey a well focused sound. 

Silent Noon is a 1901 setting of a poem by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. It is the second of a sequence of six Rossetti sonnets for voice and piano entitled The House of Life. The first performance was given by bass Francis Harford accompanied by Philip L. Agnew at St. James’s Hall, London in 1903. Here Silent Noon in the adroit arrangement by Ronald Kauffmann for TTBB male chorus and piano is performed by the choir of Trinity College with forthright and powerful conviction. The tender and poignant conclusion is especially well done. I have grown to love the richly expressive version of Silent Noon for soloist and piano sung by bass-baritone Bryn Terfel accompanied by Malcolm Martineau from the Henry Wood Hall, London in 2003. Silent Noon forms part of a quite splendid collection of 33 English Songs including a very individual performance by Terfel of Linden Lea (c.1901) on Deutsche Grammophon (see review).

Another rewarding account of Silent Noon for soloist and piano is sung by baritone Roderick Williams accompanied by pianist Iain Burnside. The disc contains twenty Vaughan Williams songs including all six settings from The House of Life. The recording was produced at Potton Hall, Suffolk in 2004 on Naxos (see review). 

Vaughan Williams wrote the motet Lord, Thou Hast Been Our Refuge - a setting of verses from Psalm 90 for SATB chorus and organ - in 1921. Set against the psalm text in the manner of a chorale is Isaac Watts’ version of O God, Our Help in Ages Past to William Croft’s hymn tune St Anne. The Trinity College choir are hard to fault – the epitome of dignified gravity and sacred inspiration. 

Vaughan Williams’ setting of the Latin Mass was composed in 1921 around the time of his appointment as Professor of Composition at the Royal College of Music and the conferring of an honorary doctorate at Oxford University. This was a period of significant inspiration and success for Vaughan Williams with scores such as A Pastoral Symphony and The Shepherds of the Delectable Mountains and the premiere in 1921 of The Lark Ascending. The Mass in G minor is scored for unaccompanied SATB soloists and double chorus. It is noteworthy as the first mass written in a traditional a cappella English manner since the sixteenth century examples by Tallis and Byrd. Vaughan Williams dedicated it to his friend Gustav Holst and the Whitsuntide Singers. However the first performance was given in the non-liturgical setting of Birmingham Town Hall by the City Choir in 1922.

Under the direction of Michael Leighton Jones, the Trinity College choir radiate real authority in their reading of the Kyrie - a movement of darkly tinged undercurrents. The choir is incisive and resilient in the Gloria and bathe the listener in devout sentiment in the Credo. A compelling rendition of the Sanctus is followed by a Benedictus that is remarkable for its contrast of tenderness with lofty peaks of supplication. A deeply felt Agnus Dei concludes the Mass. Throughout I was impressed by the well matched quartet of soloists, tenor Timothy Reynolds, soprano Kristy Biber, alto Peter Campbell and baritone Julien Robinson. I have long admired the version of the Mass sung by the Holst Singers directed by Hilary Davan Wetton. It was recorded in 1991 at St. Paul’s Girls School, Brook Green, Hammersmith, London - where Holst used to teach. The lovely blended tone and reverence of the voices is outstanding and can be heard on Regis RRC 1135 (c/w Elgar 7 Part-Songs).

The concluding work on the ABC disc is the anthem O How Amiable a setting of verses from Psalms 84 and 90 originally composed for choir with military band accompaniment. Vaughan Williams wrote the anthem in 1934 as part of a collection of Music for the Pageant of Abinger in aid of the Abinger Church Preservation Fund. The score is dedicated to Dame Francis Farrar of the Abinger Women’s Institute. This is the excellent later arrangement prepared by Jerry Brubaker for SATB chorus, brass, percussion and organ. It is splendidly performed here by the Australian Chamber Brass Ensemble directed by Michael Leighton Jones. The Trinity College choir clearly relishes the rich sonorities of this magnificent and alluring music.

The sound from the ecclesiastical setting of the Anglican chapel at Trinity College was clear, well balanced but felt as cool as ice. There is nothing at all to worry about but the sound picture might well have been improved by a touch more warmth. I enjoyed reading the excellent booklet notes. It includes full texts complete with an English translation of the Latin Mass.

This valuable disc of Vaughan Williams Choral Works just grew and grew on me with each playing. There are slightly more polished accounts of several of the scores, however, this is compensated for by the commitment and enthusiasm of the Trinity College choir. It has become one of my favourite Vaughan Williams discs.

Michael Cookson

see also review by John Quinn




 
 


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