Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
A Cotswold Romance (1951) [39:52]
Death of Tintagiles (1913) [14:48]
Rosa Mannion (soprano) - Mary
Thomas Randle (tenor) - Hugh
Matthew Brook (baritone) - John the Butcher
London Philharmonic Choir
London Symphony Orchestra/Richard Hickox
rec. 3-4 October 1997, All Saints Church, Tooting, London, England
Full English text provided
CHANDOS CHAN10728X [54:34]
Chandos has been assiduous in reissuing classic recordings from Richard Hickox’s legacy. The artwork places the original cover in the centre, handily reminding one of its first appearance, whilst taking the opportunity to expand the performer details toward the bottom of the page; a nice compromise.
This is a VW disc offering the first ever recordings of A Cotswold Romance and The Death of Tintagiles. The Romance is a cantata crafted out of the ballad-opera Hugh the Drover (1910-14) by Maurice Jacobson in collaboration with the composer, the ‘new’ conflation appearing for the first time in 1951. VW had been lucky back in 1924 when highlights had been recorded on 78 with Tudor Davies and Mary Lewis in the title roles, and Malcolm Sargent taking what I think was his first conducting job in the studios: Pearl GEM128 LP and Pearl SHECD9468. Lucky because this wasn’t an obvious recording project, but the work had only just had its first public performances and its then newness had clearly made it an attractive proposition. Though VW revised it over the years, it had fallen by the wayside; so this VW-Jacobson rejuvenation was an effective solution.
The oratorio is in ten discrete sections, and is full of the expected heartiness and rustic vigour. Hearty street cries prove invigorating and so does, in the opening The Men of Costall, one of those dyed-in-the-wool folk melodies that it turns out VW invented. The bustling and vigorous opening sets the tone for what follows. There is a yearning ballad, a big-boned example of VW in Songs of Travel mode, a charming duet, tenderly affecting but not too sickly, and plenty of gutsy writing for the excellent chorus. Alone and Friendless - an Anglicisation of the German Romantics’ favoured motto, though I doubt the allusion was meant - offers a mini slow movement of sorts, before VW unleashes his famous boxing match, followed by its exultant crowing and choral celebration. After the drama and turnabouts, the work ends in quiet resolution, ushered in by the harps. There’s many an up and down in the plot, conveyed convincingly by Thomas Randle and Rose Mannion, with Matthew Brook as the baritone, heard but briefly. Randle doesn’t have Tudor Davies’ heft but 1924 is a long time ago.
The companion work was written as incidental music to Maurice Maeterlinck’s The Death of Tintagiles in 1913. It’s fascinating to hear cross-currents from A London Symphony as well as some lightly sweeping Nordic violin writing in the opening scene, by some distance the most extensive single piece of music. The forlorn quality of the writing, and its evocative archaisms are apposite, given the story’s subject matter. VW evokes pregnant foreboding well, though the other sections offer little more than scene setting. That said one can hear ghostly hints of the Tallis Fantasia and even, at one point, Dives and Lazarus, yet to be written; indeed the embryonic seed of moments from the Fifth Symphony to come.
These are hardly essential acquisitions even for British music lovers. VW admirers need to be ardent lovers to want this disc. But if they are they will be rewarded with outstanding performances and recordings, and guaranteed permanency on their shelves.
VW admirers will be rewarded with outstanding performances and recordings.
See also reviews by Ian Lace, Michael Cookson and Rob Barnett