VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Norfolk Rhapsodies (Yates)
During January 1905 Vaughan Williams paid a visit to King’s Lynn and the surrounding area in order to collect folk songs, and the following year he wrote no fewer than three Norfolk Rhapsodies. The First (revised in 1914) justly remains a favourite, but its successor was withdrawn by the composer and not heard again until early this century, when Richard Hickox recorded it with the LSO (Chandos, 1/03) in a wonderfully sensitive completion by Stephen Hogger. Martin Yates and the RSNO are admirably chipper exponents, though it’s Hickox who makes more of that magical modulation towards the close of No 2 (track 11, 9'13") that always puts me in mind of George Butterworth’s orchestral rhapsody A Shropshire Lad. The manuscript and parts of No 3 disappeared without trace during the First World War – but what does survive is a detailed description by the critic WA Morgan (who attended the September 1907 Cardiff Festival premiere), from which David Matthews has been able to reimagine the score from a contemporary perspective. Completed in 2016 (the centenary year of the Somme Offensive), the resulting Norfolk March emerges as an altogether more troubled statement than the other two rhapsodies, the trumpet-writing in its bleak coda consciously recalling RVW’s own ‘war requiem’, A Pastoral Symphony.
Proceedings are launched with a charming 15-minute sequence of incidental music that RVW penned in 1913 for Maeterlinck’s The Blue Bird. We do not know for whom it was written or, indeed, whether it was ever performed. What’s not in doubt, however, is that Martin Yates’s idiomatic orchestration of the composer’s handwritten piano score falls most agreeably on the ear. Yates has also devised an exuberant diptych comprising a Folk Dance Medley and Little March Suite that RVW fashioned in 1934 at the behest of the English Folk Dance and Song Society. Rounding off a generous programme is Gordon Jacob’s deft 1959 orchestration of the invigorating Variations originally conceived as a test-piece for the 1957 National Brass Band Championships, and Yates’s sympathetic completion of a miniature Christmas Overture (in all likelihood another offering for the EFDSS, again dating from 1934).
In summary, a most rewarding compendium, finely played and expertly engineered. Lewis Foreman provides an absorbing booklet essay.