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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]

Experience Classicsonline

The new commemorative Hickox Legacy series on Chandos was launched in June 2012. This leads up to and continues beyond the fifth anniversary in November 2013 of the untimely death of this much admired conductor. Prolific in the recording studio, he made an especially large number of recordings of British music. There are more than 280 recordings made during his long and fruitful association with Chandos alone. The present re-issue contains premiere recordings of two of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s lesser known and rarely performed works.
The two act ballad opera Hugh the Drover known alternatively asLove in the Stocks (1910-20) uses an original English libretto by Harold Child. Its first professional staging was in 1924 at His Majesty's Theatre, London. Its plot often reminded me of Smetana’s folk opera The Bartered Bride. Hugh is set in the Cotswold village of Cotsall during the Napoleonic era. Hugh, who obtains horses for the army saves Mary the daughter of the village constable from an unwanted marriage to John the Butcher whom she does not love. In the village a prize fight has been organised to settle the dispute between the two rivals and John is subsequently defeated by Hugh. In an act of revenge John accuses Hugh of being a French spy and Hugh is put in the stocks. Mary has stolen the keys from her father and frees Hugh. They hear John and his associates approaching and Mary and Hugh, who decide they can’t leave each other, both get into the stocks. A soldier recognizes Hugh as the man who once saved his life and releases him proclaiming him a loyal British subject. In a happy ending Hugh and Mary restate their love for each other and take to the open road.
Evidently the publishers felt that the score was not suited to concert performance. This was the thinking behind Maurice Jacobson’s collaboration with the composer. In 1951 they prepared an adaptation of the opera and called it A Cotswold Romance. It’sa cantata for tenor and soprano soloists, mixed chorus and orchestra. Lasting almost forty minutes the cantata is cast in ten sections and works extremely well as a stand-alone work.
Hickox selected three splendid soloists. The opening chorus Men of Cotsall is a wonderful folk-infused romp through the Cotswold village of Cotsall. Immediately one notices enthusiastic and well drilled singing from the choir. As Hugh, the tenor Thomas Randle is highly convincing singing beautifully in the appealing song Sweet Little Linnet (Hugh’s advice to Mary). I also admired Randle’s voice in the contemplative Alone and Friendless and the compellingly sung lusty Romantic ballad Song of the Road for chorus with a solo part for Hugh. Love at First Sight, the delightful duet for Mary and Hugh is performed with evident warmth. Setting the scene for the prize fight I really enjoyed martial strains of The Best Man in England for chorus and baritone. Here Matthew Brook adeptly conveys the virile aggression of John the Butcher in the prize fight. With the song Mary escapes soprano Rosa Mannion is a feisty Mary who has been disowned by her father. Mannion is delightfully expressive, singing that she stands by her love for Hugh, with the chorus adding to the near-magical atmosphere. In the final song Freedom at Last Hugh has been released from the stocks by the soldiers. It makes for a poignant scene. In the expressive duet O the sky shall be our roof and my arms your fire Randle and Mannion sing so affectionately. Once again the entry of the chorus creates a bewitching effect. 

The second work on the disc is the incidental music The Death of Tintagiles. In 1913 Vaughan Williams wrote a number of incidental scores for the theatre at Stratford mainly for Shakespearean plays namely: The Merry Wives of Windsor, King Richard II, King Henry IV - Part 2, Richard III, and Henry V but not all of it has survived. The Death of Tintagiles was written to accompany a production of the Belgium playwright Maurice Maeterlinck’s 1894 play of the same name. The plot of this peculiar tale concerns the young boy Tintagiles who is the orphaned grandson of an elderly Queen. Tintagiles is to be the future king of an unnamed Kingdom. The envious Queen expels Tintagiles to a gloomy and sinister castle where he endures terrible ordeals. Tintagiles’ two older sisters Ygraine and Bellangère, together with Aglovale their wise old warrior, try to rescue him. In the castle Ygraine tries all she can to free Tintagiles but her endeavours are in vain.
Cast in six episodes the score starts with a Prelude followed by five short sections with the final one split into two parts. Not surprisingly the tone in this sombre tale is of a predominantly rather dark and sorrowful hue. However given the constraints Vaughan Williams has provided imaginative and characterful music. The most important and longest section is the Prelude. This consists mainly of dark and sinister writing variegated with short spans of a folk-music character. Curiously my overall impression was that the writing felt like a cross between a Hollywood film score and the quiet nobility and murky atmosphere of the orchestral tone poem In the Fen Country. In the writing I could easily imagine a tensely disturbing scene of Tintagiles being taken across the water to the shadowy castle. The mood of heartbreaking sadness is palpable in the third section Lento - Andante tranquillo - Lento and in the Finale, Lento the darkly surging writing creates a strong sense of impending danger and tension. This morphs into heart-breaking sadness.
Richard Hickox does a marvellous job and creates a fresh and lyrically pastoral colour to the A Cotswold Romance. The three soloists are well suited to their roles with tinglingly fresh singing from the London Philharmonic Choir. In The Death of Tintagiles Hickox lays bare an intense emotional power that aptly reflects the score’s dark and sinister moods. Recorded in 1997 at the All Saints Church in Tooting the engineers have produced fine recorded sound quality.
These two works are certainly amongst the least known of RVW’s large canon of works. For this re-issue I’m surprised that Chandos has not tried to increase the appeal by splitting up these two recordings and combining them with better known works. I enjoyed hearing these scores up to a point and Hickox certainly does a sterling job but in truth this disc will appeal mainly to die-hard Vaughan Williams admirers.
Michael Cookson

see also reviews by Ian Lace (original release) and Rob Barnett

Vaughan Williams review index





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