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Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
The Sons of Light * A Cantata for Chorus and Orchestra (1950) [20:03]
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)

The Mystic Trumpeter - Scena for Soprano and Orchestra Op. 18 (Ed. Colin Matthews (1904) [19:51]**
Hubert PARRY (1848-1918)

Ode on the Nativity for Soprano solo, Chorus and Orchestra (1912) [24:15]*
* Teresa Cahill (soprano)
The Bach Choir; Royal College of Music Chorus
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir David Willcocks
** Sheila Armstrong (soprano)
London Symphony Orchestra/David Atherton
rec. March 1980, Kingsway Hall (RVW, Parry)
LYRITA SRCD.270 [64.13]
Sound Sample
Excerpt The Sons of Light
Sound samples are removed after two months



Holst and Vaughan Williams were lifelong friends and Parry was one of RVW’s teachers at the Royal College of Music. The Sons of Light was commissioned by the Schools Music Association where Bernard Shore - the dedicatee - the violist was an HMI Schools. This was to be a choral work for young singers. It was premiered at the Albert Hall on 6 May 1951.

The Sons of Light did not talk down to the young performers. This is mature VW and no mistake. Listen to the echoes of Sinfonia Antartica (tr.1 7.33 sample). The typically steady and honeyed male choral singing is without saccharine. The music is suffused with a feeling of the sea and of a certain luminosity of expression. The composer continues to surprise us: in tr 2 there are even suggestions of Janáčekian magnificence (1:53). Then again we hear that serene sweetness redolent of the Serenade to Music (2:23 onwards). The finale has a wonderfully optimistic march around the sung words This is the morning of the sons of light. Vaughan Williams music written for young people and student often bore strong fruit – for example the Concerto Grosso written for a massive body of string players is similarly confident and rewarding. No trace of the blandness that writing for mixed abilities might have suggested.

Among the major RVW choral orchestral works this leaves only the Folksongs of the Four Seasons for choir and orchestra to be recorded.

Holst shared with his friend Vaughan Williams a love for the poetry of Walt Whitman. RVW’s Whitman works include songs, A Sea Symphony and part of Dona Nobis Pacem. Holst’s Dirge for Two Veterans a text set by RVW in Dona Nobis Pacem - is an extraordinary work as is his Ode to Death and both are well worth tracking down. He also wrote this big twenty minute scena in music that recalls his Choral Symphony as well as introducing some pastoral-ecstatic magic. Sheila Armstrong is magnificent here although when she is called on to be spirited she can take on a slightly plummy tone – which is fine if you enjoy the Jane Baker style where the enunciation can become out of focus. It’s a comparatively early work and there are ties when it reminded me of another composer Hamilton Harty in Ode to a Nightingale. Harty of course wrote his own setting of Whitman’s Mystic Trumpeter.

The Parry sets Dunbar’s Ode on Christ’s Nativity rather than the Milton poem favoured and masterfully set by Cyril Bradley Rootham in 1928. The Parry was premiered at the Hereford Three Choirs on 12 September 1912 the same year in which his last symphony (No. 5) was first performed. It remains a work very much of the nineteenth century but its blazing confident grandeur, Brahmsian sturdiness and seraphic smoothness impress delightfully in this idiomatic performance which confidently and sensitively recorded.

These recordings derive from two 1980s LPs: SRCS128 Holst The Lure, Dances from 'The Morning of the Year'; Mystic Trumpeter-Scena for Soprano and Orchestra Op. 18. SRCS125 Vaughan Williams The Sons of Light - A Cantata for Chorus and Orchestra; Parry Ode to the Nativity, for Soprano, Chorus and Orchestra.

The booklet cover for the CD derives from the original LP sleeve design by Keith Hensby – whatever happened to Mr Hensby? I associate his name with Lyrita’s long high summer. [see footnote]

The words are reproduced in full in the booklet. The notes are by Ursula Vaughan Williams who wrote the poems for The Sons of Light, Imogen Holst and Bernard Benoliel – I hope we will hear some of his music as well before too long.

Lyrita here put on the map three neglected scores from the British choral tradition and they do so in magnificent style.

Rob Barnett

Also Available on Lyrita

SRCD.209 Holst A Winter Idyll
SRCD.222 Holst A Fugal Overture
SRCD.211 Vaughan Williams Piano Concerto in C
SRCD.220 Parry Overture to an Unwritten Tragedy

 


Message from Jeffrey Davis

In his review Rob Barnett wondered what had become of Keith Hensby, a name familiar to those of us who collected the Lyrita LPs in the 70s as he was responsible for the imaginative designs of the sleeves.
Well, I am pleased to report that Caractus Downes of Lyrita has informed me that Mr Hensby is alive and well and that Lyrita are in constant touch with him over the reissues. Mr Hensby worked mainly as a painter rather than graphic designer and he is still very active in this field.

 

 


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