Although its products are subsidized releases of the Ralph Vaughan Williams Society, the Albion label has found some commercial success with its releases of largely obscure, but worthwhile works by RVW. Fair Child of Beauty, in fact, made the British charts in 2016, and it's well worth checking out. Its success came in spite of the fact that it's hard to determine from the graphics exactly what you're getting; the two works programmed are related, but not identical, and neither one is called Fair Child of Beauty. The two pieces are both settings of Edmund Spenser's Epithalamion (1594), a long poem celebrating his own marriage. The choral work by that title, including more of Spenser's text, has become better known. This is likely because the chamber version, The Bridal Day, failed at its first performance. It was done as a masque, with dances that failed to impress the premiere audience at 1939. Vaughan Williams responded with the choral setting, in the nature of a little secular oratorio. It's enjoyable, but the original version, for speaker, baritone soloist, chorus, and instrumental septet, is superior. It exudes the passionate atmosphere of the romance brewing between the composer and the poet Ursula Wood, who adapted the text and who later became Vaughan Williams' second wife. The configuration of forces here is unique, and it's hard to think of another work with a similar effect. It might be worth trying to reconstruct the original masque (not a popular genre these days), but in the meantime the seductive performance here, with forces led by conductor Alan Tongue, is enough to suggest a lost Vaughan Williams masterpiece. Highly recommended.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
Track Listing - Disc 1
|The Bridal Day. A Masque by Ursula Wood|
Track Listing - Disc 2
|Epithalamion - A Cantata|