VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Beyond My Dream: Music from Greek Plays
Here’s yet another hugely enterprising rescue-act from Albion Records, this time on behalf of nearly 63 minutes’ worth of incidental music that Vaughan Williams penned in 1911 for three plays by Euripides – namely The Bacchae, Electra and Iphigenia in Tauris – in Gilbert Murray’s English-verse translation. Scored for mezzo-soprano (who both sings and recites), female voices and small orchestra, RVW’s settings focus on the dramas’ great choruses. Sadly, the promised staging of Iphigenia in Tauris fell through, though we do know of at least one public performance (on May 31, 1912) of all three musical scores. Murray himself was especially appreciative of how the composer’s contribution to Iphigenia in Tauris ‘sacrifices the rhythm of the music proper to the rhythm of the verse, so that the poetry and rhythm completely predominate, which is what the verse writer naturally likes’.
As has often been the case with so many of these comparatively early RVW discoveries, they make absolutely fascinating listening, not least for those countless fleeting premonitions of the towering masterpieces to come. Certainly, in the case of The Bacchae and Electra, I don’t think it’s too fanciful to detect tantalising glimpses of such questingly personal statements as A Pastoral Symphony, Flos campi, Sancta civitas and even the late symphonies (some of the gorgeously lyrical, oboe-led passages in The Bacchae momentarily put one in mind of the fourth-movement Intermezzo from the Sinfonia antartica and the heavenly Trio section from the Ninth’s second movement).
Admittedly, the sequence from Iphigenia in Tauris (which inhabits an altogether chaster, rather less exploratory harmonic world) may not always rise to quite the same level of inspiration, but that is not to decry the painstaking research and indefatigable musicological efforts of Alan Tongue, who put together the present performing editions from the composer’s short score and parts housed in the British Library, and to whom an enormous debt of gratitude is most surely due. Indeed, these dedicated and scrupulously prepared performances featuring the mezzo-soprano Heather Lowe, Joyful Company of Singers and Britten Sinfonia under Tongue’s watchful lead, Andrew Walton’s top-notch production and Albion’s copiously detailed presentation are all absolutely beyond reproach, and the disc as a whole must be deemed an essential acquisition for every true RVW aficionado.