Vaughan Williams: Household Music; Quintet for clarinet, horn, violin, cello and piano; String Quartet

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COMPOSERS: Vaughan Williams
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Household Music; Quintet for clarinet, horn, violin, cello and piano; String Quartet
PERFORMER: Nash Ensemble
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67381-2
Vaughan Williams had one of the longest apprenticeships of any composer – a fact obscured by the length and productivity of his subsequent career. Born in 1872, he is generally reckoned to have arrived at his mature style only with the Sea Symphony in 1909. However, these discs reveal much among his previously unpublished and unknown early music that is of real distinction, and often prophetic of the later RVW.

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For example, a String Quartet from 1898, although sometimes reminiscent of Dvošák and Tchaikovsky, begins with modal undulations characteristic of the composer throughout his career. And despite its touches of Brahms, a Quintet for clarinet, horn, violin, cello and piano from the same year is no slavish imitation. A 1903 Piano Quintet, for a Schubertian ensemble including double bass, confidently embraces the French tradition. A slightly later Nocturne and Scherzo for string quintet introduces an English folksong with skill and ingenuity.

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To these unpublished works are added three early duos with piano, published later or posthumously. And there’s the 1941 Household Music, three preludes on Welsh hymn tunes written to be played by any combination of instruments available in wartime, but recorded here for the first time by Vaughan Williams’s preferred medium of string quartet. Throughout, the Nash Ensemble’s performances, well recorded, are of a quality which, together with the editions of the unpublished works planned by Faber Music, may make this one of those rare issues that bring about a permanent change in the repertoire. Anthony Burton