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Vaughan Williams: Discoveries (BBC SO/Brabbins)

Cd/Dvd Reviews - Orchestral

Ralph Vaughan Williams

Discoveries
Roderick Williams, Jennifer Johnston, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Martyn Brabbins
Albion Records ALBCD028

by James McCarthy on July 3, 2017 (July 3, 2017) filed under Orchestral | Comment Now
★★★★★ Missing in action no more: Albion Records restores a fistful of revelatory scores by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

For lovers of English music and Vaughan Williams in particular, this new recording will be a delightful surprise. These are a collection of unfinished works and a restructured film score never before recorded. The stories of these ‘rescues’ are splendidly documented in the notes and are thoroughly absorbing. 

The Three Nocturnes for baritone and orchestra (from 1908) were only completed when the missing second nocturne, fully orchestrated by the composer, turned up in 2000. According to Anthony Payne this marvellous work was almost certainly a watershed in the composer’s development, coinciding as it did with his short, transformative period of study with Ravel in 1907. The first and third nocturnes and the Four Last Songs for mezzo soprano and orchestra were orchestrated by Payne, who did such a masterly job resurrecting Elgar’s unfinished Third Symphony, and he has the Vaughan Williams imprint immaculately stamped upon his arrangements.

Similar in style to the Three Nocturnes, the Four Last Songs were premiered at the Proms in September 2013 with mezzo Jennifer Johnston, who also records the work convincingly on this CD. Sadly, I find this one of the composer’s more elusive works. The Three Nocturnes are sung perfectly by Roderick Williams. They are ruminative pieces, curiously not dissimilar in style to Finzi’s Dies Natalis (a later work) and just as beautiful.

A Road All Paved With Stars – A Symphonic Rhapsody, is a 27-minute adaption  by Adrian Williams of music from the comic opera, The Poisoned Kiss. The chances of seeing the opera these days are slim, so this attractive suite is very welcome. The music barely touches upon the more comic and bizarre aspects of the plot, drawing instead upon the romantic and dramatic aspects of the story. 

Of  RVW’s 11 film scores, Stricken Peninsula was the only one to have vanished. So Philip Lane was asked to construct “an Italian rhapsody for orchestra” by listening to a tape dub of the soundtrack. He found the film – about post war reconstruction in Italy – quite dull, whereas the score was a different matter. An affecting, quiet melody gives way to a brisk march and development, which eventually bursts into a grand and moving repeat of the opening theme. This should set the heart of any romantic beating. It is one of those glorious ‘onward, outward and upward’, themes for which the composer was famous.

Martyn Brabbins directs the music splendidly and gets excellent performances from the BBC Symphony Orchestra. The compositions on this excellent CD are indeed, discoveries.


Discoveries is Limelight Magazine's Recording of the Month in July.

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