This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.
Notes and Editorial Reviews
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Sir John in Love • Meredith Davies, cond; Raimund Herincx
Richard Van Allen
et al; John Alldis Ch; New Philharmonia O • EMI CDMB 66123 (2 CDs: 130:33)
This recording was made in 1974 and released the following year, but by 1982 it had disappeared from the catalogs. For many, therefore, its welcome reappearance, after some fifteen years, may be regarded as practically a new release. It arrives at a time when a major reassessment of Vaughan Williams's operas is under way. Vaughan Williams's music was often disparaged when this recording was made; thank goodness we are allowed to appreciate good tunes once again—and
Sir John in Love
brims with them.
A glance at the cast list shows a veritable roll call of the cream of English singers at that time, with Stephen Varcoe, who is very busy today, at the foot of the list as a servant to Ford. All the singers are perfectly cast, and they sing with great comic and romantic flair. Meredith Davies and the John Alldis Choir and the New Philharmonia Orchestra add luster to a magnificent production.
Vaughan Williams composed
Sir John in Love
between 1924 and 1928 and it was first performed at the Royal College of Music in 1929. The composer wrote his own libretto after Shakespeare's
Merry Wives of Windsor.
As Michael Kennedy has remarked: "there is a naturalness deriving from the same affinity with the Elizabethan age which makes the Tallis Fantasia so impressive a meeting of minds across the centuries."
The Falstaff of
Sir John in Love
is quite different from Verdi's creation. RVW's pace is more leisurely: again quoting Kennedy: "Where Verdi erupts and sparkles, Vaughan Williams rumbles and glows; Verdi is tart, Vaughan Williams sweet." His is a more genial expansive and lyrical Falstaff. Indeed Vaughan Williams gives Falstaff dignity; we can believe that even this fat old buffoon is capable of being ardently romantic.
Vaughan Williams shows great skill in drawing together all the strands of his complicated plot There are misunderstandings aplenty, romantic complications, a comic duel, and cuckoldry; and Falstaff is punished for chasing two married women simultaneously, first by a ducking from a laundry basket into the Thames and then by being singed and pinched by "fairies" in Windsor Forest. Appropriately, the music is slyly spiced with irony and wicked wit.
Sparing use is made of folk tunes in the score, mostly as songs for the characters to sing; their titles have no dramatic relevancy. Out of two hours or so of music less than fifteen minutes are occupied by folk tunes. Having said that, I note that the hit of the opera was
sung by Mrs. Ford in act III and later reprised in act IV as the orchestral arrangement (as Kennedy points out— practically a recomposition) that has become world famous.
There are many highlights. To mention just a few: Fenton and Anne Page's act I love duet—in Vaughan Williams's most melting vein of lyrical ardor; Fenton's lovely song, "Beauty clear and fair," in act
Falstaff's act II romantic aria, "O that joy so soon should waste!"; the deliciously witty act II duet (cleverly, partly, conceived in canon) in which Mrs. Ford and Mrs. Page read their letters from Falstaff; and Ford's touching aria, "Pardon me, wife," in act IV. The whole of act IV is a joy, especially the final scene in Windsor Forest; the "fairies'" dance is particularly impressive, and it foreshadows the scherzo of the Fourth Symphony. (Elsewhere the opera preechoes music to be heard in the Fifth Symphony and other later works.)
This recording is a real gem. I enjoyed it immensely, and it goes straight into my Want List drawer.
FANFARE: Ian Lace
Works on This Recording
Sir John in Love by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Felicity Palmer (Soprano),
Elisabeth Bainbridge (Mezzo Soprano),
Raimund Herincx (Bass),
Helen Watts (Alto),
Robert Lloyd (Bass),
John Noble (Baritone)
New Philharmonia Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1924-1928; England
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