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Friday, November 4, 2016

Ralph Vaughan Williams, Fair Child of Beauty, The Bridal Day, Epithalamion

From Albion, a label devoted solely to lesser-known music by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), comes the choral extravaganza Fair Child of Beauty (Albion 025/026), a two-CD set bringing us two forms of the work: the first a setting of the poetic narrative by Spenser, Epithalamion, arranged into a masque by  Ursula Wood (who was eventually to become Ralph's wife), and a second, oratorio version, all this from 1938-39.

Disk one contains "The Bridal Day," the masque, in its entirety; disk two "Epithalamion," the oratorio version. Each is related to the other as tree to branch, or rather perhaps as twin trunks.

Those who know Vaughan William's music well will recognize the pastoral-idyllic-impressionist-folkish element in full flourish, but also something at times of the choral sweep of "A Sea Symphony" and the rustic charm of "Hugh the Drover."

It is music of beauty and triumph, of timelessness, fully worthy of close listening. John Hopkins in the role of speaker in "Bridal Day," baritone Philip Smith, the Joyful Company of Singers under Peter Broadbent, and the Britten Sinfonia under Alan Tongue give the two variant works a joyful radiance as Vaughan Williams no doubt envisioned.

It is music any Vaughan Williams aficionado will doubtless welcome as I do. Anyone seeking to unravel the English musical resurgence of the first half of last century will find this instructive as well as very pleasurable.


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