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RVW songs v4 ALBCD045
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Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Folk Songs - Volume 4
Mary Bevan (soprano) Nicky Spence (tenor) Roderick Williams (baritone) William Vann (piano)
rec. 7-11 June 2020, Henry Wood Hall, London; 28 November 2018, Potton Hall, Suffolk
Texts included
ALBION ALBCD045 [60:39]

This is the final volume in a foundational series of four discs from Albion that has revived a rich variety of Vaughan Williams’ folk songs. It’s strange to think that VW, so associated with the folk song revival, has been represented on disc by so few of these songs and in that respect this volume is no different from the previous three, as thirteen tracks out of nineteen constitute world premiere recordings. In the series, 57 of 81 songs have not previously been recorded in these arrangements.

There are a few introductory songs from diverse sources. The Jolly Plough Boy comes from the 1935 collection called, with disarming simplicity, A Selection of Less Known Folk Songs, Volume 2 whereas The Cuckoo and the Nightingale and Servant Man and Husbandman are from an earlier ‘educational’ set called Folk Songs for Schools which was published in 1912. In the latter Nicky Spence and Roderick Williams alternate verses except for the final one where they sing together. The Turtle Dove comes from 1934 and is slightly anomalous having been recorded two years earlier than the other songs and at Potton Hall. Everything else comes from lockdown sessions in June 2020 at Henry Wood Hall. One is aware of the acoustical difference, but it hardly matters. These songs are all largely strophic and simply rendered.

The primary focus in this disc is Fifteen Folk Songs from Newfoundland (1934). The songs were collected by the pioneering ethnomusicologist Maud Karpeles – who together with Cecil Sharp had collected Appalachian songs that appear in the second volume. Sharp died in 1924 and so Karpeles ventured to Newfoundland on her own in 1929-30 and collected a plethora of folk tunes which she commissioned VW (and others) to arrange for voice and piano. VW’s own selection of 15 was included in the 1934 collection and published separately in 1968. This set is more complex than the first four disparate settings. The piano accompaniments are more varied, expressive and inclined to act as commentaries – try, in particular, The Bloody Gardener - and this vests the folk songs with a richer intensity.

The collection includes some unusually long examples of the genre, such as Sweet William’s Ghost and, especially, the remarkable Lord Akeman and there is the usual complement of gruesome and murderous songs, of which The Bonny Banks of Virgie-o is one of the most powerful. The use of variants in these settings is interesting and valuable. There are occasions, too, when we are sprung a surprise, as in the case of so famous a song as The Cuckoo, here rendered in a slow to mid-tempo and predominantly melancholy, whilst being laced by yet another example of the composer’s flexible accompaniments. I think it’s undeniably true that the piano writing in this collection surpasses anything else in the previous volumes and it’s strongly to William Vann’s credit that he plays with such sympathy and achievement. All three singers inhabit their songs with a strong awareness of the dictates of drama but without ever slipping over into pastiche.

There’s another excellent booklet note and full texts. My review of Volume 3 gives an indication of how standards of performance and presentation have been maintained from beginning to end. This volume ends the journey in style.

Jonathan Woolf

A Selection of Less Known Folk Songs, Volume 2 (1935)
The Jolly Plough Boy [0:58]
Folk Songs for Schools (1912)
The Cuckoo and the Nightingale [1:54]
Servant Man and Husbandman [3:57]
The Turtle Dove (1934) [2:58]
Fifteen Folk Songs from Newfoundland (1934)
Sweet William’s Ghost [6:23]
The Cruel Mother [2:53]
The Gypsy Laddie [1:56]
The Bloody Gardener [4:04]
The Bonny Banks of Virgie-o [4:15]
Earl Brand [3:30]
Lord Akeman [8:23]
The Lover’s Ghost [3:08]
She’s like the Swallow [2:16]
The Maiden’s Lament [1:56]
Proud Nancy [2:55]
The Morning Dew [1:37]
The Winter’s Gone and Past [2:42]
The Cuckoo [1:38]
Young Floro [3:16]

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