Vaughan Williams: The Lake in the Mountains; Six Studies in English Folksong; Phantasy Quintet; Violin Sonata in A minor; String Quartet No. 2

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COMPOSERS: Vaughan Williams
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: The Lake in the Mountains; Six Studies in English Folksong; Phantasy Quintet; Violin Sonata in A minor; String Quartet No. 2
PERFORMER: Nash Ensemble
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67313
Let’s have no special pleading. Vaughan Williams never produced anything on this instrumental scale that rivals the best of Bridge or the three big chamber works of Elgar – unless one counts the original version of the song cycle On Wenlock Edge. But then none of this music is negligible, particularly not the pre-First World War Phantasy Quintet and the much later Violin Sonata. The rapid seven-in-a-bar scherzo of the Phantasy Quintet is a remarkably fresh flight of imagination, and in general the folk and English-archaic elements are well digested and rarely predictable – if you think you know where the opening modal viola solo is headed, be prepared for a subtle but effective shock. The Violin Sonata is made of sterner, starker stuff, at times looking forward to the Ninth Symphony (begun four years later), elsewhere recalling the questioning ambiguities of the Sixth. It’s a pity the Second String Quartet isn’t all on the level of inspiration shown in its demonic scherzo, but the expressively sympathetic, stylish playing helps gloss over most of the music’s limitations. The other works are also performed very persuasively, and the sound is on the whole excellent – the piano is a little backwardly placed in the Violin Sonata, but that does mean the violin-writing stands out clearly. Stephen Johnson

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