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CD: Crotchet

Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
CD 1
Four Hymns for tenor, viola and piano (1914) [15:24]
Merciless Beauty for tenor, two violins and cello (1921) [6:17]
Two of the Four Poems by Fredegond Shove for tenor and piano (1922-25) [8:15]
Ten Blake Songs for tenor and oboe (1957) [17:56]
On Wenlock Edge for tenor, string quartet and piano (1909) [21:33]
Ian Partridge (tenor); Music Group of London; Jennifer Partridge (piano) (Shove); Janet Craxton (oboe) (Blake)
rec. 1971-73, No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road. ADD
Peter WARLOCK (1894-1930)
CD 2
Capriol Suite (1926) [10:03]
Serenade (to Frederick Delius on his 60th birthday) (1922) [9:07]
The Curlew (1920-22) [22:16]
Bethlehem Down (1927) [3:32]
Adam lay ybounden (1922) [1:16]
I saw a maiden, 'Lullay my liking' (1927) [4:28]
Balulalow (words: Wedderburn brothers after Luther) (1919) [1:46]
Where Riches is Everlastingly (1927) [2:51]
The Shrouding of the Duchess of Malfi (1923-25) [4:15]
The Lady's Birthday (Sociable Songs, No. 3) (1925) [2:44]
Pretty Ring Time (1925) [1:19]
Autumn Twilight (1922) [2:38]
Captain Stratton's Fancy (1920) [1:37]
Yarmouth Fair (1924) [1:40]
English Sinfonia/Neville Dilkes; Bournemouth Sinfonietta/Norman Del Mar; Ian Partridge (tenor) and Music Group of London; Choir of Guildford Cathedral; Robert Hammersley (tenor) and Gavin Williams (organ); Choir of Westminster Abbey/George Guest; Dame Janet Baker (mezzo) and Sir Philip Ledger (piano); Choir of King’s College Cambridge/Sir David Willcocks (Andrew Davis (organ)); Baccholian Singers of London and Jennifer Partridge (piano); Dame Janet Baker (mezzo) and Gerald Moore (piano); Frederick Harvey and Gerald Moore (piano); Robert Lloyd (bass) and Nina Walker (piano); Owen Brannigan (bass) and Ernest Lush (piano).
rec. 1960-80. ADD
EMI CLASSICS BRITISH COMPOSERS 9689392 [69:46 + 69:49]
Experience Classicsonline

This is a valuable collection although by no means as generous as it could have been in sheer playing time. In most other ways however it is admirable. Essentially we have a two CD set - with one CD each for the vocal-chamber RVW and the vocal and instrumental Warlock. The recordings are all vintage and capable EMI analogue. The RVW liner notes are by Michael Kennedy from the original LP issues and the Warlock annotation is by Richard Drakeford when the Warlock CD was issued.

The music: Vaughan WilliamsFour Hymns have also been recorded in their orchestral garb and can be heard in the capacious yet even more thinly documented EMI RVW Collectors’ Edition. These Hymns link in time and space and spirit with the Mystical Songs. The most impressive of them - Come Love Come Lord - capitalises on the plangent viola of the Music Group of London. Merciless Beauty and the two Songs to words by Fredegond Shove owe a lot to the ‘frostbound’ Warlock and the ‘hail fellow pastoral singer’ Warlock about them - that pristine Medieval quality also found in Holst’s Four Songs for soprano and violin and Bax’s At the Boar’s Head. The ten Blake Songs remind us of the delightful artistry of Janet Craxton singer, skip-step and renderer of fanfares. These songs were written for the 1957 film The Vision of William Blake and were premiered the following year some six weeks after the composer’s death. This disc and much of the next revel in the remarkable voice of Ian Partridge and he can be heard at his finest, clean-toned, intelligently and emotionally engaged with Housman’s words in On Wenlock Edge. This version has not been excelled. I seem to have known every twist of this work and this recording for the last approaching thirty-five years. In Bredon Hill have those Shropshire hills shimmered and shivered with such magic in any other hands.

The Warlock disc offers us a gutsy Capriol in the hands of Neville Dilkes who was picked for two mixed English orchestral anthologies, an Arnold concerto collection and the Moeran Symphony in the 1970s for EMI and then seemingly dropped along with his English Sinfonia with alacrity. Norman del Mar’s 1960s Serenade goes with a warm Delian swing yet without the urgency found in the original recordings by Lambert and Barbirolli (see Divine Arts DDH 27811). Then comes Warlock’s master-piece The Yeats song-cycle The Curlew. Partridge is faultless unless you must have a real Irish accent. This is a deeply moving mystical work of witchery, desolation, poetry and despair. Janet Craxton reminded me of The Curlew in one of the RVW Blake Songs. Here her cor anglais is the voice of The Curlew. I suppose this work when analysed evince techniques used by Schreker and Zemlinsky but one simply does not notice - at least not as a distraction from the weave and enchantment of the piece. No wonder EMI chose the Guildford version of Bethlehem Down; it is authentic seasonal magic. Less wonderful is the Hammersley Adam Lay ybounden complete with hissy organ action. The sibilance in the Westminster Abbey version of I saw a fair maiden distracts somewhat from the honeyed address of the piece. Janet Baker’s 1980 version of Balulalow is fragile; one recalls her voice as represented on the Saga/Regis CD but one need only go to track 19 and back to 1967 to hear Baker at her glorious best in Pretty Ring Time. Where Riches is everlastingly sounds for most of its length like Warlock the potboiler. Moving on to something much more impressive in the Elizabethan mysticism of The Shrouding of the Duchess of Malfi sung by the Baccholians with Ian Partridge unmistakably part of the choral mass. Warlock the troubadour of alcoholic trivia is in evidence for the Lady’s Birthday. A chilly autumnal magic grips the mind in Frederick Harvey’s slowly trickling and shiver-inducing Autumn Twilight. It is wonderful and recalls The Curlew in its towering mastery. This version is from 1966 and the accompanist as in the 1967 Baker is Gerald Moore. Robert Lloyd gives a bar-leaning version of Captain Stratton’s Fancy. Owen Brannigan gives a bold-as-brass reading of Yarmouth Fair - there’s none of Peter Pears’ precious wan-ness about this. Superb.

No words, I am afraid; not even a link to a website.

There you have it: an RVW disc without blemish - except perhaps that they did not include Along the Field and the Four Vocalises - both superb RVW. The Warlock is a mixed bag but entertaining and revelatory in its variety.

Rob Barnett 



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