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
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
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.
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.
Also Available on Lyrita
Holst A Winter Idyll
Holst A Fugal Overture
Vaughan Williams Piano Concerto in C
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.