VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Songs of Travel
In his absorbing booklet essay, Stephen Connock draws attention to Vaughan Williams’s very special and deeply personal identification with the viola, justly mentioning in particular Flos campi, Suite for viola and small orchestra, and the slow movement from A London Symphony. (For my own part, I’d also cite the principal viola’s devastatingly intimate ‘alleluia’ towards the end of the Fifth Symphony’s Romanza slow movement.) Viola player Philip Dukes and pianist Anna Tilbrook make a lovely thing of the Six Studies in English Folksong (originally for cello and piano, and given in May Mukle’s 1927 transcription), and they generate a comparably stylish, keenly communicative rapport in the ravishing Romance found among the composer’s papers after his death (most likely intended for the great Lionel Tertis). The delights continue as the tenor James Gilchrist joins his colleagues for urgently expressive renderings of both the wondrous Four Hymns (1912 14) that RVW inscribed to Steuart Wilson (a performance that all but matches the lofty eloquence of Ian Partridge’s classic version with David Parkhouse and Christopher Wellington from the Music Group of London) and Richard Morrison’s fetching 2016 arrangement of ‘Rhosymedre’ (the second of the Three Preludes founded on Welsh Hymn-tunes for organ).
Elsewhere, Gilchrist and Tilbrook draw upon the reserves of experience that come with two decades of performing together to lend delectably wise advocacy to the Songs of Travel (1901 04). These nine inspired settings of Robert Louis Stevenson never seem to pall and here really do come up as fresh as the day they were conceived; this splendid partnership’s tenderly unaffected delivery of ‘Whither must I wander?’ stops me in my tracks every time – and did RVW ever write a sweeter melody? That just leaves a sequence of four songs composed between 1902 and 1908, with ‘The Sky above the Roof’ and ‘Silent Noon’ enjoying especially idiomatic treatment.
Chandos’s Potton Hall sound is agreeably airy but just occasionally not ideally focused. Don’t let that tiny niggle deter you, though; this is a strongly recommendable issue.