VW violin MKCD002
Support us financially by purchasing from

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)
Complete Works for Violin and Piano
Romance and Pastorale (1912-1914)
The Lark Ascending (original version for violin and piano) (1914-1920)
Sonata for Violin and Piano in A minor (1954)
Six Studies in English Folksong (1926)
Midori Komachi (violin)
Simon Callaghan (piano)
rec. 2021, Monmouth, UK

Vaughan Williams was born 150 years ago. This bend in the road of posterity can be taken as pause for musicians to take a pause to review and hymn the composer’s achievements. Not what you could now call neglected, RVW’s music still bears scrutiny. Approaches vary but collections that focus on music for particular concatenations of instrument (here, violin and piano) are not unusual. This selection is music from just before the First World War stretching to that written within four years of the composer’s death in the late 1950s.

The Romance and Pastorale (1912-1914), written during an age of innocence, is especially valuable as it distils, early on, the composer’s embrace with the British countryside and its ecstasies. Midori Komachi (now rising to a maturity above her early status as a child virtuoso) and Callaghan ensure the fragile beauty of the writing is preserved. This diptychal work speaks as an augury of the next score which was written during, and in the wake of, the Great War. The Romance and Pastorale, for most of us, was heard as part of a Hyperion 2-CD set of the composer’s very early chamber music.

It is unusual to hear The Lark in its version for violin and piano - the form in which it was premiered. Midori Komachi spins its poetry in silvery vulnerability and Callaghan echoes that supple fragility. I do not pretend that I would not, in general, like to hear this in the version with orchestra. However this recording is an estimable event and one that rewards the listener in its own glinting terms. We are lofted higher and higher into realms of chaste silence. It reminds me of a TV programme which was overseen by Diana Rigg on BBC4 a decade or so ago. There The Lark was played in the violin and piano version by Julia Hwang and Charles Matthews. They introduced it in this form to an audience as a souvenir of the premiere’s village hall venue. That premiere took place in December 1920.

The Six Studies in English Folk Song from 1926 conclude the disc. It has become fashionable to denigrate this set of miniatures but they offer much. At the same time they do little to tax the concentration. The same can be said of the clarinet Bagatelles by Finzi. The RVW sequence exists in many instrumental configurations: viola (Chandos), cello (Hyperion, Naxos) viola and harp (Centaur) clarinet and orchestra (Dutton, ASV), oboe and string quartet (Chandos) and clarinet and piano (Chandos).

The “Studies” can be taken as implying an academicism that in fact is quite absent or at least deeply subsumed. The opening Adagio (‘Lovely on the Water’) breathes sweetly and there are no waves to trouble the heart. Larghetto (‘Van Dieman’s Land’ - surely that should be “Van Diemen’s Land”) and ‘Spurn Point’ continue the sea’s calm spell. The following Lento offers yet more introspection. The Andante Tranquillo (‘The Lady and the Dragoon’) raises its submissive head in a sweet melancholy. There’s nothing in this piece of the propulsive danger of Troy’s sabre display in front of Bathsheba Everdene. The final little Allegro Vivace is jaunty but does not break the somniferous spell cast by this little set of vignettes.

As for the 1954 Violin Sonata, written for Frederick Grinke, it was inspired by Grinke’s handling of the very much earlier Lark Ascending. In terms of performances the Sonata been rather a poor relation to The Lark. Recordings have not been plentiful and for me the most prominent has been the one by Hugh Bean and David Parkhouse, both players from the Music Group of London (EMI). By coincidence, Bean had set his own seal on The Lark for EMI with Boult so in a sense Bean followed the same inspired path as Grinke.

Bean’s reading of the Sonata plays for about the same duration as does that of Midori Komachi. It is an underestimated work of considerable substance and is flooded with a passion that belies the composer’s late years. There’s nothing here of the feebleness of old age. Ideas burst forth and beauty effervesces.. Bean and Parkhouse press plenty of kinetic energy into their performance on EMI and the recording is good for 1974. It is a nicely nuanced reading not least in the long finale’s Tema con variazioni. The final allegro is excitingly bounced by Midori Komachi and Callaghan. In the score there’s no sign of the bleached out didacticism of the RVW’s Concerto Accademico or of the outer movements of his friend, Finzi’s Concerto of the 1920s. The Sonata ends in a happy chiming which the presumptuous among us can take as a response to the cry “Oh noisy bells be dumb” (Wenlock Edge). Well, if not ‘dumb’ then at least meek and no longer imperious with the urgency of mortality. Both Menuhin (again EMI) and Midori Komachi present the middle and final movements most touchingly. Menuhin struck me as rather brusque in the first movement, so overall Midori Komachi can be preferred alongside Bean.

This cleverly assembled and themed disc was recorded and issued with funding from the Vaughan Williams Charitable Trust, Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation and The Nimbus Foundation. The CD booklet includes photos of the artists at Leith Hill Place, Vaughan Williams’ childhood home. The disc itself was produced by Adrian Farmer and edited by Simon Callaghan. With Midori Komachi’s extended programme note this disc is a deserving contribution to RVW150. It neatly carries Vaughan Williams’ voice; one that endures and still pleasingly vibrates these many years after the composer’s birth.

Rob Barnett