United Kingdom Vaughan Williams and Ian Venables: Petroc Trelawny (narrator), Choir of Merton School, Oxford Modern Sinfonia / Benjamin Nicholas (conductor). Merton School Chapel, Oxford 11.11.2022 (CR)
Vaughan Williams – ‘Lord, thou hast been our refuge’; An Oxford Elegy
Ian Venables – Requiem, Op.48
Vaughan Williams’s An Oxford Elegy (1947-9) is never encountered in efficiency, so it was becoming that this outing in his a hundred and fiftieth anniversary ought to be given in that metropolis (having been given its public premiere at The Queen’s School there, in 1952). The work conflates extracts from Matthew Arnold’s poems Scholar Gypsy and Thyrsis as a melodrama, in that many of the textual content is spoken, with the choir given just a few verses amidst their wordless buzzing within the background.
Any admirer of the work will know the recording with John Westbrook’s authoritative, patrician narration, accompanied by the Jacques Orchestra underneath David Willcocks. Right here Petroc Trelawny gave a extra pressing, strenuous account, creating a way of drama within the second, because the textual content relates the legend of the Scholar Gypsy who deserted his research to affix a bunch of gypsies and wander the countryside round Oxford. Benjamin Nicholas and the Oxford Modern Sinfonia set the scene with a way of forlorn thriller, considerably echoing the eerie, other-worldly closing motion of the Symphony No.6 which the composer had just lately completed composing similtaneously the work.
The primary (wordless) entry by the Merton School Choir was quiet and wispy, like a morning mist, lastly dispersed with the brighter bloom of sonority at Arnold’s well-known description of Oxford as ‘that candy metropolis together with her dreaming spires’. A subsequent choral part with phrases was carried by singers and orchestra with a delicate jauntiness, however the way in which during which the refrain stole in afterwards with one other wordless passage like a purposeful sigh demonstrated the masterly distinction they effected between sections with textual content and people with out, as if two totally different choirs had been singing in alternation. OCS held the atmosphere of haunted melancholy steadily all through, working as much as a extra animated part within the center seamlessly.
Opening the live performance was Vaughan Williams’s setting of Psalm 90 ‘Lord, thou has been our refuge’ (1921) beginning with the choir alone like a quiet incantation, or musical mumbling even, slightly than the exact articulation of a particular textual content. The entry of the organ past the display screen on the different finish of the lengthy nave of Merton School’s Chapel from the place the choir sang, introduced the work alive as if summoning it into waking consciousness, earlier than the searing counterpoint of the uncredited trumpeter’s intoning of the hymn tune ‘St Anne’ (normally sung to ‘O God, our assist in ages previous’) elevated the efficiency to a convincing blaze of glory on the climax.
Within the second half was the live performance premiere of the orchestrated model of Ian Venables’s Requiem. Its designated opus quantity, 48, occurs to be the identical as that of Fauré’s setting, and there are specific similarities within the construction and musical model. However after the OCS’s sweetly spun opening by the strings alone, recalling the Elgar of Sospiri in spirit maybe, the work extra strongly evoked the mannequin of Duruflé’s setting.
Choir and orchestra sustained a finely luminous, homogeneous texture all through the work regardless of its often-opulent scoring, as if the music hovered in a meditative trance, with out a stable centre of gravity. Just like the Fauré and Duruflé Requiems, the ‘Pie Jesu’ includes a soprano solo, although right here it offers option to a choral continuation, during which the sopranos of the Merton choir seamlessly continued the clear plangent line of the unnamed vocal soloist over the lilting accompaniment within the different choral components. In different actions, drama was supplied by the extra decided tempo of the music, however nonetheless drawn naturally and unforced from its prevailing serenity. If the composition itself doesn’t escape the orbit of these different influences, this was nonetheless a compelling and idiomatic efficiency.