Gloucestershire honours the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Ralph Vaughan Williams – Seen and Heard Worldwide

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United KingdomUnited Kingdom one hundred and fiftieth Birthday Live performance – Vaughan Williams, Imogen Holst, Rebecca Clarke: James Gilchrist (tenor), Quentin Hayes (baritone), The Carducci Quartet, James Wilshire (piano), David Ayre (double bass), Cheltenham Chamber Choir / Ben Sawyer (conductor). Pittville Pump Rooms, Cheltenham, 12.10.2022. (JQ)

Carducci Quartet © Tom Barnes

Vaughan Williams – Serenade to Music; Three Elizabethan Half Songs; On Wenlock Edge; Solar, Moon, Stars and Man; 5 Mystical Songs

Imogen Holst – A Hymne to Christ

Rebecca Clarke – Poem

Throughout 2022, the musical world has been celebrating the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of one of many UK’s biggest composers, Ralph Vaughan Williams. His connections with Gloucestershire had been important. He was born within the village of Down Ampney, close to Cirencester, and though he and his household moved away only some years later after the sudden loss of life of his father, he saved hyperlinks with the county, not least via the Three Choirs Pageant.

Fittingly, the Three Choirs Pageant, in affiliation with Gloucester Cathedral, marked the precise anniversary of his beginning with two days of celebratory musical occasions. I used to be unable to attend both of the occasions on 13 October: a ‘Come and Sing’ occasion exploring the 5 Mystical Songs and different works; and an occasion entitled ‘Fantasias by Candlelight’ wherein Clio Gould and the Sainsbury Royal Academy Soloists carried out a programme of English music for strings in Gloucester Cathedral. The latter occasion included the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis: how pleasing that this masterpiece needs to be performed as a part of this one hundred and fiftieth anniversary celebration within the Cathedral the place, on the 1910 Three Choirs Pageant, it was first carried out.

The 2 occasions on the anniversary day itself constituted a superb homage to VW. Choral Evensong was broadcast dwell from Gloucester Cathedral by BBC Radio 3. The Director of Music, Adrian Partington had devised a discerning musical programme which included two items by VW: O clap your arms and the magnificent Lord, thou hast been our refuge. I used to be particularly intrigued to listen to the Night Canticles, Op 55, composed in 1959 by Ruth Gipps (1921-1999), a composition pupil of VW on the RCM. I’ve heard – and loved – a number of of Gipps’ orchestral items however I had by no means heard her setting of the ‘Magazine’ and ‘Nunc’ and, certainly, had solely just lately change into conscious of their existence.

I used to be obliged to hearken to the service dwell on Radio 3. Even when I had been current, it isn’t actually applicable to overview within the standard sense a church service, so I’ll content material myself by saying that the music was carried out to the very excessive requirements one has come to affiliate with Gloucester Cathedral. The Gipps Canticles had been completed and spectacular. I used to be particularly struck by the vital alto solo – very properly sung – within the Magnificat and the arresting ‘Glory be’ which closed each canticles. I hope that the Gloucester Cathedral choir will preserve them of their common repertoire and, certainly, that different cathedral and collegiate choirs will examine them. (Readers with entry to BBC Sounds can hear the service for themselves for the subsequent 30 days.)

Having heard, through the radio, music from the resonant acoustic of Gloucester’s magnificent medieval Cathedral, within the night I discovered myself amid the Regency opulence of Cheltenham’s Pittville Pump Rooms the place the acoustic in the principle corridor is fairly extra intimate. A superb array of musicians had been assembled to have a good time the VW anniversary, together with the sixteen members of the Cheltenham Chamber Choir. This was a gaggle {of professional} singers, both Gloucestershire-based or with hyperlinks to the county, which had been fashioned particularly for this occasion. A sign of the standard of the group is that each of the vocal soloists had been amongst their ranks.

The choir was straight into motion, performing the miraculous invention that’s Serenade to Music. I realized from the superb programme notes that the efficiency was given in an ‘authorised association’ by Elizabeth Bowden. The association, which I’ve not beforehand encountered, was made for organ and string quintet. For the reason that venue didn’t have an organ, the pragmatic choice was made to substitute a piano.  In fact, one missed the magic of VW’s orchestral scoring however I discovered that my ears very quickly adjusted, because of delicate taking part in by the six instrumentalists – the silvery violin solos of Matthew Denton had been a particular pleasure. In a comparatively small corridor, the sound was fairly quick however that introduced positive aspects in that element registered. The sixteen singers sang the piece very properly certainly. It will be invidious to single out any one among them for the best way wherein the person brief solos had been delivered; all had been glorious. I couldn’t assist however discover, although, that everybody engaged with the phrases. When the total ensemble sang out at such moments as ‘Such concord is in immortal souls’, and much more at ‘And draw her house with music’, the collective sound was thrilling. I believed the instrumental association labored very properly; I want to hear it once more with the sustaining sound of an organ.

The choir then sang the Three Elizabethan Half Songs. That is an early work for a cappella refrain, relationship from 1899. Two of the settings use phrases by Shakespeare whereas the third takes strains by George Herbert. The programme notice described them as ‘easy however charming in nature’, which I believe hits the nail on the top. Although VW’s fascination with people track lay simply across the nook at this level in his profession, there was a really sturdy modal affect within the harmonies. I should have heard the songs earlier than, however I can’t actually recall them. I preferred them so much and the prime quality of their efficiency made the very best case for them; they need to be extra extensively carried out.

Simply 9 years later got here one among VW’s early masterpieces. For On Wenlock Edge (1908) James Gilchrist was joined by the Carducci Quartet and James Wilshire. Gilchrist briefly launched the cycle and reminded us that, in making his choice of six poems from A E Housman’s A Shropshire Lad, VW focussed on poems which expressed the transience of life. There adopted a really superb efficiency certainly. Gilchrist is a famend exponent of those songs. His plangently expressive tone is ideally suited to the music and, as well as, his readability of diction ensures that the phrases come throughout very properly. However his method with the phrases went method past ‘mere’ readability of diction; he communicated the phrases vividly to the listener, each via his inflection of them and thru his bodily gesticulations. It will not be an exaggeration to say that on this event he inhabited the songs. For instance, in ‘Is my staff ploughing?’ I admired the best way Gilchrist vividly contrasted the 2 voices: the harmless pallor of the lifeless younger man set towards the more and more guilt-ridden agitation of his good friend who has survived. ‘Bredon Hill’ obtained a gripping efficiency because the sound of the bells which illustrate the story transfer from early happiness to the tragedy of untimely loss. Gilchrist’s singing drew us into the drama. This track was a wonderful instance of how all six musicians mixed to inform the story. The instrumental accompaniment was tellingly weighted in order that the assorted iterations of the church bells all made their impact; nowhere was this extra evident than within the chill atmosphere that gamers and singer created for the verse that begins ‘however when the snows at Christmas’. Earlier, within the title track, the gamers ideally urged the turbulent winds blowing round Wenlock Edge. This was a gripping efficiency of the track cycle, into which the performers drew me very strongly.

After the interval break, a lot wanted after the depth of On Wenlock Edge, we heard a rarity within the form of Solar, Moon, Stars and Man. In 1951 VW composed a cantata, The Sons of Mild, which was designed to be sung by younger singers supported by knowledgeable orchestra. The choral writing is all in unison. The primary efficiency, carried out by Sir Adrian Boult, concerned no fewer than 1150 younger singers. Ursula Vaughan Williams wrote the texts for the cantata. I don’t imagine it’s carried out fairly often these days, although I’ve encountered it via two recordings (overview). The cantata takes about 20 minutes to carry out. In 1955, VW recycled among the music right into a shorter four-movement work, Solar, Moon, Stars and Man, which could be carried out both with strings and piano or, as tonight, simply with piano. I wouldn’t say that the music is classic VW however it’s properly price listening to, not least as a result of it proves how efficient unison voices could be. Right here, in fact, we had luxurious casting within the type of the Cheltenham Chamber Choir. They sang the music very properly, as one would count on, and made a very sturdy affect within the massive assured tune that VW offered for the final part, ‘The Music of the Sons of Mild’. Inevitably, given using unison voices, an excessive amount of the musical curiosity lies within the accompaniment. James Wilshire gave a really superb account of the piano half. I haven’t listened to The Sons of Mild in years; this efficiency satisfied me I ought to rectify that omission quickly.

Imogen Holst (1907-1984) was a composition scholar of VW on the RCM; as well as, in fact, she was the daughter of the composer’s expensive good friend, Gustav Holst. Thus, the inclusion of a brief piece by her was doubly justified. A Hymne to Christ is an unaccompanied setting of phrases by John Donne, composed in 1940. I’ve heard this earlier than on CD, however by no means dwell. The piece is gorgeous; the music is very completed and Holst responded very acutely to Donne’s poetry. Expertly carried out by the choir, I used to be very glad to listen to this work tonight.

Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979) was a pupil of Stanford on the RCM, which she attended between 1907 and 1910. There, I realized from the programme, she ‘crossed paths’ with VW. I’ve heard too little of her music and Poem (1926) for string quartet was new to me. Apparently, it lay unperformed till as just lately as 2002. It’s a piece that lasts about eight minutes and, frankly, when one hears a efficiency as expressive and skilful as from the Carducci Quartet, its neglect is difficult to grasp. A lot of the piece is slow-moving and suffused with autumnal melancholy, although there’s a brief central part wherein the music strikes a bit extra swiftly. Although the piece begins in a subdued vein it rapidly acquires important depth. I admired the music very a lot. It obtained a marvellous efficiency from the Carducci Quartet. Their taking part in was filled with feeling, finesse and an evident empathy not only for the music however for one another’s musical contributions. This was a brief however very superb demonstration of the collaborative artwork of quartet taking part in.

A yr after the ‘Tallis’ Fantasia was unveiled on the Gloucester Three Choirs Pageant, VW returned to the 1911 Pageant, held in Worcester, for the primary efficiency of one other early masterpiece, 5 Mystical Songs. All of the performers reassembled on the platform to carry out the work and as Ben Sawyer gave the downbeat, I settled again to take pleasure in one among my favorite VW works. However what was this? Why had been the Carducci Quartet taking part in what gave the impression of a fraction from the ‘Tallis’ Fantasia? All rapidly grew to become clear because the choir sang ‘Blissful Birthday to you’ for VW. This, I later realized, was an association by Sawyer himself. Cleverly, he rolled within the concluding bars of the final of the 5 Mystical Songs proper on the finish. This witty, affectionate little tribute was completely positioned within the programme and was a pleasant shock.

Then we did certainly hear 5 Mystical Songs. For this Sawyer used the composer’s personal association for strings and piano. On this event, the string forces had been pared down to at least one instrument per half, but it surely labored very properly certainly in tonight’s context. Quentin Hayes was an completed soloist; his voice was clear and firmly produced and his diction was admirable. He and the choir conveyed the ecstasy of ‘Easter’ very properly. I preferred the best way Hayes put over the mild lyricism of ‘Love bade me welcome’ wherein the rapt closing part (‘You could sit down, says Love, and style my meat’) was a specific pleasure; right here, after the singers had completed, the instrumentalists continued the rapt temper within the coda. The concluding ‘Antiphon’ was marvellous. ‘Let all of the world in evr’y nook sing’ proclaimed the tenors and basses proper at the beginning; the collective ring of their voices was completely thrilling, an actual name to consideration. The efficiency that adopted was filled with pleasure and fervour, however I observed – not that it got here as a shock – how responsive these singers had been to VW’s dynamic contrasts. This thrilling efficiency set the seal on a beautiful tribute to Ralph Vaughan Williams.

This was a memorable live performance. As I hope I’ve made clear, the performances had been uniformly glorious. One one that hasn’t obtained adequate credit score is Ben Sawyer. He carried out all of the works wherein he was concerned with authority and evident empathy for and understanding of the music. A singer himself, he knew simply methods to get the very best out of his skilled singers. He deserves credit score additionally for therefore perceptively designing the programme. All of the music was properly chosen and the order wherein the items had been offered was shrewd. He additionally judged accurately the inclusion of apposite items by two different composers. There was simply sufficient music by these two composers to supply a distinction to the VW items however to not such a level as to deflect the main target from the person of the hour.

This live performance was a splendid and rewarding tribute to Ralph Vaughan Williams

John Quinn                 

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