This is a very fine recital of some unusual British songs. The two song cycles by Ralph Vaughan Williams recorded here by tenor Mark Padmore might be called good Vaughan Williams choices for people who don't like Vaughan Williams. They are both unusually scored, and compared with the composer's usual mode of expression they qualify as austere. Especially impressive are the Ten Blake Songs, accompanied only by a single oboe, or in three cases by nothing at all. There are many settings of Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience (check out the bluegrass versions by Native American songwriter Martha Redbone sometime), but few are as sparse as these, and they seem to distill Vaughan Williams' lifetime of experience with English folk song down to a deeply serious core. The opening On Wenlock Edge is less intense; Vaughan Williams definitely concentrates on poet A.E. Housman's cheery pastoral side. But the scoring for the combination of tenor, string quartet, and piano is novel. Peter Warlock's The Curlew, a cycle of settings of poems by William Butler Yeats (accompanied in the booklet by some great curlew artwork), also has a string quartet accompaniment, this time with English horn, and the program is rounded off by a contemporary work, Jonathan Dove's The End, for string quartet, English horn, and flute. In every way it seems to pick up where the earlier music has left off, and the whole program has a pleasing unity even as it picks up some very unusual works. Padmore is capable of greater power, but here he reins things in to stay in keeping with the intimate, reflective quality of the music, and his text intelligibility makes the booklet texts superfluous for native speakers. Harmonia Mundi's engineers contribute beautifully designed studio sound, and in general this is a unique and rather haunting recital.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|On Wenlock Edge|
|Ten Blake Songs|