It requires the presence of some arrangements for the promised complete works for viola and piano of Ralph Vaughan Williams to fill out a CD recording, but Vaughan Williams did several of these arrangements himself; he was a violist, and he wrote well for the instrument. The Suite for viola and pianoforte, originally for viola and small orchestra but reduced by the composer, is a rarely heard find. Its eight movements are short and seem artless, but they conceal a great deal of thought that must have been what caused the composer to say the work was giving him difficulty. They lie on the boundary between Vaughan Williams' characteristic pastoral language and the reigning neoclassic style of the day (the original Suite dates from 1934). They achieve considerable emotional subtlety; sample the seemingly oxymoronic "Polka Mélancholique." The following Romance for viola and piano, of indeterminate age, is the only actual viola-and-piano work on the album, and it's pretty slight. Vaughan Williams produced several alternative versions of the Six Studies in English Folk Song, including the present one for viola and piano. They are exactly what they sound like: not transcriptions of folk songs, but experiments in how their language might be applied. The familiar Fantasia on Greensleeves was not arranged for viola and piano by Vaughan Williams, but the piece works well in this version, with the famous tune lying squarely in the middle of the viola's range. The Fantasia on Sussex Folk Tunes went through two rounds of arrangement: one of them by the fine violist here, Martin Outram (you'd never know it), and it's a strong counterpart to the Greensleeves fantasia. The only disappointment here is the set of Four Hymns for tenor, piano, and obbligato viola; tenor Mark Padmore is too stentorian for the music and the viola part is inessential indeed. Apart from this letdown, the album is enjoyable, perfectly performed, and nicely recorded. In consistently Vaughan Williams-mad Great Britain, it has had considerable commercial success, and that's no surprise.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Suite for Viola and Pianoforte|
|Six Studies in English Folk Song|
|Four Hymns for Tenor voice, Piano and Viola obbligato|