Amongst the early works recorded, have been Willow-Wood for Baritone and Orchestra (1903) from Naxos (8.557798), The Garden of Proserpine for soprano, chorus and orchestra (1899) from Albion Records (ALBCD012) and Fantasia for Piano and Orchestra (1902) from Somm (SOMMCD246).
Now from Dutton Epoch www.duttonvocalion.co.uk we have two more early works, his Bucolic Suite from 1900 and Serenade in A minor from 1898, coupled with two late works, Folk Songs of the Four Seasons (1949) and Dark Pastoral for Cello and Orchestra (1942/43). This is a very attractive issue featuring the Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by Martin Yates, with Guy Johnston (cello). www.hazardchase.co.uk/artists/martin_yates
To the Ploughboy and May Song opens with a lively tune but also has some lovely quiet moments whereas To the Green Meadow and an Acre of Land has a wonderful rhythmic swing to it, full of panache. The Sprig of Thyme and the Lark in the Morning must be one of Vaughan Williams’ loveliest folk song arrangements with a gently flowing melody. So too is The Cuckoo, a lovely andante sostenuto. The last movement, Wassail Song and Children’s Christmas Song brings this attractive group of settings to an end and includes a Christmas tune most people will recognise. All is beautifully played by Martin Yates and the RSNO.
Vaughan Williams’ Bucolic Suite (or Pastoral Suite), written in 1900 and revised in 1901 was first performed at the Bournemouth Winter Gardens in March 1902 conducted by Dan Godfrey, where Holst also had the first performance of his early Cotswold Symphony that same year. The Bucolic Suite opens with strings playing chords that sound like village fiddlers playing. This leads to a lively dance-like allegro. There is an attractive andante that follows where there are just occasional hints of his later folk music style. It is in the third movement intermezzo’s central section that we can hear the sound of the mature Vaughan Williams. Either side the music does tend to sound as though it is influenced by Dvorak. The finale rushes ahead with a lyrical central section that features a solo horn, oboe and bassoon before a lively end.
What a tragedy that Vaughan Williams didn’t complete the Cello Concerto that he was working on in 1942/43. All that he left was a first movement that was in an advanced stage and an unfinished slow movement. Mercifully David Matthews has made a completion and orchestration of this slow movement lasting just under eleven minutes entitled Dark Pastoral for Cello and Orchestra. What a lovely creation it is with the cello weaving a beautiful flowing melody against an orchestration that sounds like pure Vaughan Williams. The coda is quite magical and Guy Johnston proves a fine advocate in the cello part.
The earliest work on this disc is Vaughan Williams’ Serenade in A minor from 1898, also first performed in April 1901 at Bournemouth by Dan Godfrey. By this time the composer had left the Royal College of Music and, on 9th October 1897, married his first wife, Adeline Fisher. Interestingly it was the Rev. W.J. Spooner, of Spoonerism fame, that married them. They honeymooned in Berlin, where Vaughan Williams also studied with Max Bruch. Vaughan Williams must have been keen to get his wife away from her rather close knit and stifling family, though they did have to join Adeline’s family in San Remo for Christmas, Vaughan Williams going for walks alone as his wife seemed to prefer her family’s company.
Adeline was the fifth of eleven children of Mr and Mrs Herbert Fisher of Brockenhurst in Hampshire. Herbert Fisher was the son of a canon of Salisbury Cathedral and one of his great uncles was Archdeacon Fisher, a friend and patron of the artist Constable and who can be seen in one of Constable’s paintings of Salisbury Cathedral. It was whilst in Berlin that Vaughan Williams worked on the Serenade in A minor.
The Prelude is a beautifully scored and impressive movement full of confidence and invention. The dance like Scherzo has some of Vaughan Williams’ mature style in places, though not so much in the second subject. This later style also peers through in the Intermezzo and Trio. The beautiful Romance is probably the finest part of this work, opening with a lovely tune on the clarinet which is soon taken over by the orchestra. There is a beautiful section with oboe imitating bird song and interplaying with a glorious tune from the orchestra. The movement rises to a wonderful central climax. The Finale has a marching tune with lyrical sections where woodwind interweave. As the movement progresses it becomes a little bland (perhaps this is due to the alterations to the coda that Stanford apparently wanted) but if Vaughan Williams could produce a work with so many good things as this at the age of 26 years then his talent was certainly shining through.
The Royal Scottish National Orchestra under Martin Yates does a wonderful job with these works in fine recordings. A must for lovers of Vaughan Williams and British music generally.