WGBH Radio WGBH Radio theclassicalstation.org

British Composers - Vaughan Williams, Holst: Choral Folksong Arrangements


Release Date: 07/22/2008 
Label:  Emi Classics   Catalog #: 16155   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Ralph Vaughan WilliamsTraditionalGustav Holst
Performer:  Ian PartridgeGeoffrey ShawChristopher KeyteSusan Longfield
Conductor:  Christopher Bishop
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Madrigal SingersBaccholian Singers of London
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
CD not available: This title is currently only available as an MP3 download.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

A favourite LP appears on CD, expanded with extras.

A favorite long-playing record appears on compact disc, expanded with extras.

No composer ever had his finger more on the pulse of English folk music than the great Ralph Vaughan Williams. His arrangements of folk songs for unaccompanied chorus are not to be missed. Some are well-known, others were gathered in countryside expeditions by researchers, including RVW himself, who collected the first song here, “Bushes and Briars,” from Charles Pottipher in Essex in 1903.

RVW had an uncanny ability to identify what was haunting and powerful in these old tunes and intensify that in his arrangements for vocal ensembles. Thus, however easily my
Read more jaded ear might shrug off the well-worn melody to “Loch Lomond,” put RVW’s harmonization in front of me and I’m reduced to jelly by the third verse. Not only are the composer’s harmonies potent, he extracts dominant melodic motifs and builds introductions, accompaniments and codas out of them. For instance, the aforementioned “Bushes and Briars” is a fine, though fairly standard lost love ballad. Yet RVW conjures the ghosts out of it in his forlorn arrangement, with displaced accents and archaic parallel fifths.

“Greensleeves” fascinated RVW, leading to an orchestral fantasia that is very famous. His vocal arrangement, however, is even better. Though the orchestral piece contains similar gestures, here the emphasis is on the romantic loss, kept flexibly flowing in Christopher Bishop’s direction. “The Unquiet Grave” is a wrenching tale of love pushed to disturbing ends, with RVW’s arrangement for female voices harmonically illustrating the song’s unearthly tale. “John Dory” becomes an intricate vocal scherzo, scampering in mischievous counterpoint. And so it continues for 18 songs, including the “Five English Folk Songs” set, which dates from 1913 and boasts even more intricate arrangements.

The London Madrigal Singers were evidently an expert group, including the great Ian Partridge on some of the tenor solos - Yes, Mr. Bostridge was not the first great tenor named Ian to hail from the British Isles! The singing is throughout both balanced and nuanced, led with both crispness and flexibility by Bishop. The recording from Kingsway Hall is simply lovely, restored here beautifully, improving the balance between high and low voices when compared to the original American release on LP, which was on the bargain label Seraphim with the songs curiously in a different order. Surprisingly, despite my familiarity with the Seraphim release, I was able to recognize the superiority of the current ordering, which is arranged with contrast in mind, whereas the LP seems to have been rearranged with the most familiar titles to the beginnings of each side. Astonishingly, these works aren’t recorded all that frequently, so there isn’t much competition for this release, which every Vaughan Williams fan should hear.

The by no means negligible bonus on this reissue is a half-hour’s worth of part songs by Gustav Holst for male voices, including both folksong arrangements and original works, from a 1974 recording by the Baccholian Singers of London, a group again including Ian Partridge, as well as other familiar names such as Rogers Covey-Crump and John Huw Davies. Original pieces include the comical “The Homecoming,” setting a text — alas, not included here — by Thomas Hardy, and the “Hymn to Manas” from the fourth group of Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda. Particularly unsettling is the brief but potent “David’s Lament for Jonathan,” a canon which sinks lower and lower as it goes. Five of the Six Choral Folk Songs, H136, are included, giving us a glimpse at Holst’s more pedagogical approach to setting folksongs.

The sound of the Holst selections, from EMI’s Abbey Road Studio No. 1 is not as limpid and clear as the sound from Kingsway, but the space is effectively used, with the voices closer to the microphones, but with plenty of resonance allowed to resound in the background.

The only complaint I could possibly make about this essential collection is the lack of texts. If EMI’s budget strategy were one of maximum efficiency, I’d shut up, but the current booklet contains one blank page, a mini catalogue of other titles in the “British Composers” series, including a full title page and mostly blank back page, and full-page pictures of the two composers. Assuming that most listeners would be able to look up pictures of the composer/arrangers on Wikipedia; couldn’t those seven wasted pages have been used instead for the texts? Even for English speakers, some of the folk songs here have hard-to-discern words in obscure dialects, and the powerful texts, polished by time, are the starting points for appreciation of these gems. At any rate, my old record of the RVW arrangements has been worn nearly smooth by replaying, so I’m delighted to see this reissue appear.

-- Mark Sebastian Jordan, MusicWeb International
Read less

Works on This Recording

1.
Folksongs from the Eastern Counties (15): Bushes and Briars by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Conductor:  Christopher Bishop
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Madrigal Singers
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1903; United Kingdom 
Length: 2 Minutes 55 Secs. 
2.
Loch Lomond by Traditional
Conductor:  Christopher Bishop
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Madrigal Singers
Written: Scotland 
Length: 3 Minutes 41 Secs. 
Notes: Arranger: Ralph Vaughan Williams. 
3.
John Dory by Traditional
Conductor:  Christopher Bishop
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Madrigal Singers
Period: Renaissance 
Written: 1609; St Paul's Cathedral, 
Length: 2 Minutes 13 Secs. 
Notes: Arranger: Ralph Vaughan Williams. 
4.
Greensleeves by Traditional
Conductor:  Christopher Bishop
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Madrigal Singers
Period: Renaissance 
Written: 16th Century; England 
Length: 3 Minutes 18 Secs. 
Notes: Arranger: Ralph Vaughan Williams. 
5.
Ward, the pirate by Traditional
Conductor:  Christopher Bishop
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Madrigal Singers
Period: Renaissance 
Written: 1680; London, England 
Length: 2 Minutes 39 Secs. 
Notes: Arranger: Ralph Vaughan Williams. 
6.
Ca' the yowes to the knowes by Traditional
Performer:  Ian Partridge (Tenor)
Conductor:  Christopher Bishop
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Madrigal Singers
Written: Scotland 
Length: 5 Minutes 12 Secs. 
Notes: Arranger: Ralph Vaughan Williams. 
7.
How cold the wind doth blow by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Conductor:  Christopher Bishop
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Madrigal Singers
Period: 20th Century 
Written: England 
Length: 4 Minutes 45 Secs. 
8.
The seeds of love by Traditional
Performer:  Geoffrey Shaw (Baritone)
Conductor:  Christopher Bishop
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Madrigal Singers
Length: 2 Minutes 37 Secs. 
Notes: Arranger: Ralph Vaughan Williams. 
9.
Early in the spring by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Conductor:  Christopher Bishop
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Madrigal Singers
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1952; England 
Length: 1 Minutes 51 Secs. 
10.
Turtle dove by Traditional
Performer:  Christopher Keyte (Baritone)
Conductor:  Christopher Bishop
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Madrigal Singers
Written: USA 
Length: 3 Minutes 22 Secs. 
Notes: Arranger: Ralph Vaughan Williams. 
11.
Folksongs of the Four Seasons: An acre of land by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Performer:  Susan Longfield (Soprano)
Conductor:  Christopher Bishop
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Madrigal Singers
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1949; England 
Length: 1 Minutes 22 Secs. 
12.
English Folksongs (5): no 1, The Dark-eyed Sailor by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Conductor:  Christopher Bishop
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Madrigal Singers
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1913; England 
Length: 2 Minutes 15 Secs. 
13.
English Folksongs (5): no 2, The Springtime of the Year by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Conductor:  Christopher Bishop
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Madrigal Singers
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1913; England 
Length: 3 Minutes 8 Secs. 
14.
English Folksongs (5): no 3, Just as the Tide was Flowing by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Conductor:  Christopher Bishop
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Madrigal Singers
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1913; England 
Length: 2 Minutes 16 Secs. 
15.
English Folksongs (5): no 4, The Lover's Ghost by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Conductor:  Christopher Bishop
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Madrigal Singers
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1913; England 
Length: 4 Minutes 9 Secs. 
16.
English Folksongs (5): no 5, Wassail Song by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Conductor:  Christopher Bishop
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Madrigal Singers
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1913; England 
Length: 2 Minutes 38 Secs. 
17.
The Homecoming, H 120 by Gustav Holst
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Baccholian Singers of London
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1913; London, Engalnd 
Length: 6 Minutes 2 Secs. 
18.
Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda, Op. 26: 4th group, H 100 - no 3, Hymn to Manas by Gustav Holst
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Baccholian Singers of London
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1908-1912; England 
Length: 3 Minutes 47 Secs. 
19.
Canons (8) for Equal Voices, H 187: The Fields of Sorrow by Gustav Holst
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Baccholian Singers of London
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 1 Minutes 1 Secs. 
20.
Canons (8) for Equal Voices, H 187: David's Lament for Jonathan by Gustav Holst
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Baccholian Singers of London
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 1 Minutes 20 Secs. 
21.
Canons (8) for Equal Voices, H 187: Truth of All Truth by Gustav Holst
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Baccholian Singers of London
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 3 Minutes 56 Secs. 
22.
Choral Folk Songs (6), Op. 36b/H 136: no 4, The Song of the Blacksmith by Gustav Holst
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Baccholian Singers of London
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1916; England 
Length: 1 Minutes 16 Secs. 
23.
Choral Folk Songs (6), Op. 36b/H 136: no 1, I sowed the seeds of love by Gustav Holst
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Baccholian Singers of London
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1916; England 
Length: 3 Minutes 6 Secs. 
24.
Choral Folk Songs (6), Op. 36b/H 136: no 3, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John by Gustav Holst
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Baccholian Singers of London
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1916; England 
Length: 2 Minutes 24 Secs. 
25.
Choral Folk Songs (6), Op. 36b/H 136: no 5, I love my love by Gustav Holst
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Baccholian Singers of London
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1916; England 
Length: 4 Minutes 4 Secs. 
26.
Choral Folk Songs (6), Op. 36b/H 136: no 6, Swansea Town by Gustav Holst
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Baccholian Singers of London
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1916; England 
Length: 2 Minutes 53 Secs. 

Sound Samples

Bushes and Briars
Loch Lomond
John Dory
Greensleeves
Ward, the Pirate
Ca' the Yowes
The Unquiet Grave
The Seeds of Love
Early in the Spring
The Turtle Dove
An Acre of Land
Five English Folk Songs: 1. The Dark Eyed Sailor
Five English Folk Songs: 2. The Spring Time of the Year
Five English Folk Songs: 3. Just as the tide was flowing
Five English Folk Songs: 4. The Lover's Ghost (Well met, my own true love)
Five English Folk Songs: 5. Wassail Song
The Homecoming H120
Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda - fourth group H100 (Op. 26/4): 3. Hymn to Manas
Eight Canons for equal voices H187: 3. The Fields of Sorrow
Eight Canons for equal voices H187: 4. David's Lament for Jonathan
Eight Canons for equal voices H187: 6. Truth of All Truth
Six Choral Folk Songs H136 (Op. 36b): 4. The Song of the Blacksmith
Six Choral Folk Songs H136 (Op. 36b): 1. I sowed the seeds of love
Six Choral Folk Songs H136 (Op. 36b): 3. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
Six Choral Folk Songs H136 (Op. 36b): 5. I love my love
Six Choral Folk Songs H136 (Op. 36b): 6. Swansea Town

Customer Reviews

Be the first to review this title
Review This Title
Review This Title Share on Facebook




YOU MUST BE A SUBSCRIBER TO LISTEN TO ARKIVMUSIC STREAMING.
TRY IT NOW FOR FREE!
Sign up now for two weeks of free access to the world's best classical music collection. Keep listening for only $19.95/month - thousands of classical albums for the price of one! Learn more about ArkivMusic Streaming
Aleady a subscriber? Sign In