Martyn Brabbins / BBC Symphony Orchestra

Ralph Vaughan Williams: Discoveries

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Ralph Vaughan Williams: Discoveries Review

by James Manheim

These "discoveries" of music by Ralph Vaughan Williams have indeed never been performed before in the form in which they appear here. Each has been altered (mostly in the form of orchestration) by a contemporary composer, and there aren't any lost masterworks here; the recording is aimed mostly at Vaughan Williams fans. This said, there are a lot of those, and there's a good deal of music to interest them here. The music offers some fine Vaughan Williams tunes that for one reason or another haven't entered the Vaughan Williams mainstream. The music spans his entire career, from the Three Nocturnes of the composer's student years around 1908, when he was a student of Maurice Ravel's and, to an extent, under his influence, to the Four Last Songs of the 1950s, with texts by the composer's wife, Ursula Vaughan Williams. Sample the opening of Procris, with its haunting use of solo instruments in the orchestration by Anthony Payne. The greatest rarity is surely the film score Stricken Peninsula, written for a forgotten World War II-era propaganda film and itself lost; what you hear here has been reconstructed from copies of the film itself by Philip Lane. It's potboiler stuff; compare it to the music Shostakovich reluctantly wrote for films to put it in perspective. But the Four Last Songs are effective in orchestral garb; A Road All Paved with Stars is a "symphonic rhapsody" or suite from the Vaughan Williams opera The Poisoned Kiss and does hit its highlights; and the Three Nocturnes, perhaps the strongest of the four compositions, show the elusive Impressionist strain in Vaughan Williams' music. The BBC Symphony Orchestra under Martyn Brabbins, with the supremely idiomatic baritone Roderick Williams in the vocal pieces, give entirely convincing readings of music that will find its place in the libraries of Vaughan Williams enthusiasts.

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