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A richly rewarding celebration of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ a hundred and fiftieth birthday in Gloucester – Seen and Heard Worldwide

United Kingdom Birthday Celebration for Ralph: Roderick Williams (baritone), Susie Allan (piano). Ivor Gurney Corridor, The King’s Faculty, Gloucester 13.11.2022. (JQ)

Roderick Williams and Susie Allan lately at Wigmore Corridor

‘Birthday Celebration for Ralph’: songs by Vaughan Williams, Charles Wooden, Ravel, Bruch, Rebecca Clarke, Grace Williams, George Butterworth, Holst, Ina Boyle, Gurney, Stanford, Ruth Gipps, Howells, Elizbeth Maconchy, Parry, Madeleine Dring, Finzi

Vaughan Williams – Songs of Journey; Meneleaus

Roderick Williams and Susie Allan got here to provide this keenly anticipated recital for Gloucester Music Society in honour of Vaughan Williams’ a hundred and fiftieth anniversary. The venue was the Ivor Gurney Corridor, a Victorian constructing used for a few years as a schoolroom and latterly as a small gymnasium by The King’s Faculty. It lies proper within the shadow of Gloucester Cathedral and just some years in the past, it was transformed right into a small auditorium, excellent for chamber music, and was named after one of many King’s Faculty’s most celebrated alumni. As Roderick Williams commented when he launched the recital, it was fairly one thing to have the ability to carry out music by each Gurney and his buddy and modern, Herbert Howells within the very room through which that they had doubtless been taught.

Williams defined that the programme had been designed as a ‘digital birthday celebration’ for Vaughan Williams. To this social gathering had been invited quite a lot of friends – lecturers, pals and pupils of VW – all of whom had been represented by a single tune within the first half with quite a lot of VW’s personal songs scattered amongst them. This primary half, which occupied practically an hour, consisted of twenty-two songs by seventeen composers, which had been carried out as an unbroken sequence. Within the second half we heard VW’s cycle, Songs of Journey to which was appended a single tune, Meneleaus. Fittingly, this closing merchandise was a setting of a poem by Ursula Vaughan Williams which Roderick Williams, the social gathering’s genial host, wittily urged was akin to Ursula tapping her husband on the shoulder because the perform drew to an in depth and whispering that it was time to name a cab to take them residence. Earlier than discussing the music and performances, I believe it’s applicable to say that the development of the primary half was discerning and confirmed Roderick Williams’ deep and perceptive information of the English tune repertoire. He had divided the songs into quite a lot of small sub-groups, together with in his choice a number of gadgets that will have been unfamiliar to us within the viewers; every one justified its inclusion on benefit.

Two Tennyson settings, one by VW and one by Charles Wooden, one in every of his lecturers, opened the proceedings. The Splendour Falls was an impassioned tune, which singer and pianist delivered with nice élan. Wooden’s Fortune and her wheel didn’t make such a powerful impression on me as a chunk however it was nonetheless value listening to.

VWs lifelong enthusiasm for folksongs knowledgeable the subsequent group. His celebrated Linden Lea led issues off. Williams sang this in a Dorset accent, a feat which not each singer may have pulled off. I’m certain to say I wasn’t fully certain I preferred this strategy however it was refreshing. Ravel’s Chanson Écossaise turned out to be a setting of Burns’ ‘Ye banks and braes’. For me, the chief curiosity right here lay within the piano half, impeccably and poetically performed by Susie Allan. It was fascinating to listen to within the introduction the acquainted tune arrayed in Ravelian textures and harmonies, and the piano half was a delight all through the setting. I’m not certain I’ve beforehand heard Rebecca Clarke’s Down by the Salley Gardens; it’s pleasant and Williams sang it with nice expression. George Butterworth’s ‘Roving within the dew’ is one in every of his People Songs from Sussex. It’s a dialogue tune, the protagonists being a complicated gentleman and a feisty milkmaid. Williams portrayed these two very totally different characters with well-judged broad humour.

Subsequent, we heard a gaggle of 5 Walt Whitman settings. Holst’s Darest thou now, O Soul units the identical phrases that VW utilized in his choral/orchestral work Towards the unknown area. Holst’s response to the textual content is far more succinct than his buddy’s – I ponder in the event that they in contrast notes about their respective settings throughout one in every of their ‘area days’ – however it loses nothing from being a lot shorter. It’s a massive, imposing tune and the piano half, beautifully encompassed by Allan, is sort of orchestral in dimension. Williams’ singing was commanding. It was solely final yr that I first grew to become acquainted with the songs of the Irish composer, Ina Boyle due to a wonderful CD of her songs (assessment). Boyle grew to become a pupil of VW in 1923 and travelled from Eire month-to-month for a lesson till the outbreak of World Battle II put a cease to that. Her songs are properly value discovery and I used to be thrilled to seek out that The Final Invocation was included at this time. This predates her research with VW – she gained a prize with it as a competition in Sligo in 1913. It made a powerful impression on me once I heard the CD and it was simply as spectacular when heard reside. The music is intense and poetic, as was the efficiency by Williams and Allan. It’s a very high-quality tune. So too is VW’s A transparent midnight. Right here, the piano half is akin to a sluggish processional whereas the vocal line has real the Aristocracy. Previous that tune was a Whitman setting by Ivor Gurney which has a VW hyperlink. In Reconciliation Gurney selected a poem by the American poet which VW would later set as a part of his nice cantata Dona nobis pacem. Gurney’s response to the poem is rapturous at first, later turning into far more inward. Williams was daringly expressive in his supply, particularly in direction of the tip. The Whitman group ended with Stanford’s Pleasure, Shipmate, Pleasure through which each performers introduced out thrillingly the ardent eagerness of each phrases and music.

A few settings of George Herbert {followed}, one extraordinarily acquainted, one a lot much less so. VW’s ‘The Name’ is one in every of his superb 5 Mystical Songs; it was nice to listen to it on this event. The Pulley by Ruth Gipps, a VW pupil, is a tune which I heard for the primary time solely a matter of weeks in the past. It seems on a really high-quality new CD of English orchestral songs, all of which seem in orchestrations by Williams; on the disc in query, he’s the soloist, partnered by the Hallé and Sir Mark Elder. After I reviewed the disc I commented that I hadn’t but discovered this explicit tune interesting. This reside efficiency helped enormously in that respect. It made a giant distinction to see Williams speaking the tune. Additionally – and I imply no disrespect to Williams’ wonderful association for string orchestra – I discovered that the piano accompaniment, immaculately performed by Allan, made it simpler for me to understand the tune.

It was intriguing to listen to two settings of poetry by Seamus O’Sullivan aspect by aspect. VW’s The Twilight Folks acquired a memorably atmospheric efficiency. Howells’ The Sorrows of Love is a tune that isn’t simple to understand however Williams and Allan actually introduced it to life.

Lastly, a number of Shakespeare settings. I wasn’t enormously taken with Elizabeth Maconchy’s The wind and the rain. It’s a quick and livid setting which requires – and right here acquired – pin-point articulation from the performers. If the tune itself didn’t do an excellent deal for me that didn’t imply I couldn’t admire the deft and witty efficiency. Madeleine Dring’s Take, o take these lips away is a beautiful tune – and far simpler to understand. Williams sang it most expressively. By the way, that’s one other tune which he has very efficiently orchestrated and which is included on the aforementioned CD with the Hallé. This part of the programme got here to an finish with Finzi’s peerless setting of ‘Who’s Sylvia’, a part of the gathering Allow us to garlands convey. The efficiency was a delight

After the interval VW’s digital birthday celebration resumed. Having greeted all his fellow friends and exchanged peasantries (and songs) with them, the visitor of honour now took centre stage.

Songs of Journey (1904) is, arguably, VW’s most interesting achievement within the area of artwork tune and so it was a extremely applicable selection for this programme. The efficiency started auspiciously: ‘The Vagabond’ had a assured, purposeful tread, but although each Williams and Allan had been suitably strong, under no circumstances did they neglect the poetry within the tune. Susie Allan made the piano ripple like a harp in ‘Let magnificence awake’. The rapture within the music was readily obvious on this efficiency with Williams’ enviably seamless legato a determined asset. ‘Youth and love’ is a marvellous tune and it was raptly carried out. But once more, I admired Allan’s enjoying; she weighted the piano half, with its recurring two-followed-by-three rhythm, in a great vogue, permitting Williams’ voice to take to the air. The climax had all of the urgency you would want to hear. This was an impressive studying of the tune. In ‘The Infinite Shining Heaven’ I cherished the best way each artists made VW’s harmonic shifts so telling, but in a refined approach. I’ve by no means understood why VW saved the ultimate tune locked away in a drawer; it was solely discovered and carried out after his dying. His withholding of the tune is most unusual as a result of ‘I’ve trod the upward and the downward slope’ attracts the whole lot collectively so completely. Not solely do Stevenson’s strains convey the cycle to a extremely satisfying conclusion but in addition VW, together with his allusions to earlier themes, wraps the whole lot up in a great approach. Right now’s efficiency mixed the Aristocracy and feeling; as soon as the singing had completed Allan’s beautiful piano postlude offered the best conclusion – besides that it wasn’t the conclusion. Williams and Allan moved seamlessly into Meneleaus.

This is likely one of the assortment entitled 4 Final Songs. The songs, all of which set poems by Ursula Vaughan Williams, had been composed between 1954 and 1958 and had been gathered collectively right into a set by Ursula, and carried out, after her husband’s dying. Whereas Songs of Journey has the arrogance and eagerness of (relative) youth, Meneleaus which comes from the composer’s final years, is far more reflective in nature. It appears to me to be a selected instance of VW trying again; within the piano half I hear a number of temporary echoes of the later symphonies, for instance. It’s a very high-quality, autumnal tune which Williams and Allan carried out with nice understanding and empathy.

This was an impressive recital. Roderick Williams was on prime kind. The expressive vary in his singing and the best way through which he communicates together with his viewers, naturally and with out exaggeration, permits him to convey something he performs vividly to life. That was very a lot in proof at this time. He’s famend for his sensitivity to the phrases he’s singing, which he clearly research simply as intently because the music. All of the texts of the songs had been printed within the programme however I can truthfully say that not as soon as did I really feel the necessity to have a look at the phrases, so clear was his diction. ‘Vibrant is the ring of phrases / When the best man rings them’ are the opening strains of the penultimate quantity in Songs of Journey. Right now, all through the recital, we actually had the best man ringing the phrases.

Williams and Allan have been recital companions for greater than twenty years now, and it exhibits. There’s a palpable creative rapport between them, and although an excessive amount of onerous work is completed within the rehearsal room, I’m certain, they appear to have an intuitive understanding. Allan’s enjoying at this time was a delight from begin to end, filled with notion and musicality. Collectively, she and Williams make a formidable musical partnership.

This was a richly rewarding and really satisfying celebration of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ a hundred and fiftieth birthday. I didn’t have a sore head afterwards; that is one musical social gathering that I gained’t neglect in a rush.

John Quinn              



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