The Albion label has done yeoman's work (to use a phrase the composer might readily have set) in exposing the lesser-known output of Ralph Vaughan Williams, but perhaps never quite to this extent: 16 of the 25 songs on this album have never been recorded before. Among those that have been, there's also a first: the six-song cycle The House of Life is sung here for the first time by a woman, mezzo-soprano Kitty Whately. Two of the six songs clearly represent a female beloved, to which one might respond that for one thing, the cycle was premiered by a female contralto, Edith Clegg, and for another, even if that were not true, it shouldn't make any difference. Whately is a lesser-known quantity here than her male counterpart on the album, baritone Roderick Williams, but she's a perfect foil for him, and the two are delightful when they join forces at the end. Whately brings real passion to The House of Life. Many of the other songs are folkish in nature, and uniquely in Vaughan Williams' œuvre, there are three songs in German and four in French, three of them are arrangements of medieval songs. These aren't masterpieces, but they testify to the composer's interest in approaching the idea of folk song from as many directions as possible. The English tunes are often charming; sample Bounaparty, set to a text by Thomas Hardy for a Sullivan-like sea song: apparently it is the composer's only Hardy setting. The Two Poems by Seumas O'Sullivan (1925), especially the 35-second "A Piper," are entrancing. The songs are not all early but come from various parts of Vaughan Williams' career, and they are on balance well worth having excavated. Other pluses include the often subtle accompaniment of William Vann and the superb, wholly appropriate Potton Hall sound. Enjoyable for audiences well beyond Vaughan Williams enthusiasts.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|The The House of Life|
|Three Songs from Shakespeare|
|Two Poems by Seumas O'Sullivan|