Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Come away, death (1909) [2:31]
Ring out your bells (1909) [3:52]
Love is a sickness (1918) [1:00]
Rest (1905) [3:29]
The unquiet grave (1950) [4:19]
Heart’s Music (1955) [2:46]
Linden Lea (1912) [2:20]
Fain would I change that note (1907) [2:01]
Alister McAlpine’s lament (1924) [3:08]
Silence and music (1953) [4:53]
Gerald FINZI (1901-1956)
Three short Elegies (1926) [4:15]
Seven poems of Robert Bridges (1934) [18:41]
Quink Vocal Ensemble
rec. 1987, NH Church, Vreeland, Netherlands
English texts included
Quink is a vocal ensemble consisting of just five singers. Though the individual voices aren’t specified in the booklet I’m guessing that there are two sopranos, an alto, a tenor and a bass. They make a light, clean sound and, technically, their singing is flawless. However, in that very technical perfection lies also a weakness, at least as far as this programme is concerned.
However, before we get to the weakness let’s salute the enterprise of this programme, especially in the selection of the items by Vaughan Williams. With the exception of the very familiar Linden Lea most of these part songs are rarities; indeed, many of them are not listed in Michael Kennedy’s authoritative book The Works of Ralph Vaughan Williams. As will be seen from the track listing, Quink offer a mix of pieces, some from the early years of the twentieth century and some from the composer’s last years. All are worth hearing. I was intrigued by The unquiet grave, a spare folk song setting for SSA which seemed to evoke the ambience of the earlier Riders to the Sea (1936). Silence and music is a setting of a poem by Ursula Vaughan Williams, composed in the year of their marriage. Slightly later is Heart’s Music, a rarefied setting of words by Thomas Campion.
Though I admire the enterprise behind the selection of the programme I’m much less enamoured of its execution. As I said, Quink’s singing is technically flawless but one looks for something more in music like this - or at least I do. Sample Linden Lea. The singing is very precise but where’s the life? It’s all too perfect and sounds soulless and studied. In particular I dislike very much the way a break is made after the word “down” in the line ‘do lean down low in Linden Lea.’ It sounds affected and suggests that the singers don’t feel either the words or the music instinctively. To be fair, the group’s refinement is better suited to a song like Rest, a beautiful setting. However, if you listen to Silence and music you may admire, as I do, the way the group deliver the hushed, somewhat strange music that forms the majority of the setting but you may agree with me that the singers could and should have let go more at the song’s brief climax.
I’m afraid that by the time I got to the Finzi settings I’d rather wearied of Quink’s approach. They sing Finzi in the same way. In the Bridges settings the gentle ‘I praise the tender flower’ benefits from their refinement but when we get to the exhilarating ‘My spirit sang all day’ the singing is clean and lithe but I sense no ecstasy, no willingness to let go. Frankly, by comparison with the recording by The Finzi Singers (CHAN 8936) this is a damp squib. Again, ‘Nightingales’ is beautifully balanced but I felt the technical perfection was too calculating. The Finzi Singers, who also include Three short Elegies in their programme, are infinitely more reliable and idiomatic guides to these songs.
I don’t know if this 1987 recording is a reissue; the disc has only recently arrived for review. There are one or two irritating slips in the booklet, which ought to have been corrected at the proof-reading stage. The recorded sound is clear and clean - rather like the performances, really. I’m afraid I shan’t be returning to this disc, even to hear rare RVW. In terms of the approach to the music and its execution this is a fundamentally misconceived project. I simply don’t feel the singers, for all their technical prowess, have any real feeling for the music; it’s not in their blood. One has the impression that the music is being presented in a laboratory by people in white coats.
John Quinn
A fundamentally misconceived project. 

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