L Berkeley: Variations on a Hymn by Orlando Gibbons*; Vaughan Williams: Five Mystical Songs**; The Lark Ascending† Warlock: Capriol Suite
*Andrew Staples (tenor), **Roderick Williams (baritone), †Elena Urioste (violin); London Choral Sinfonia/Michael Waldron
Orchid Classics ORC100200 63:57 mins
The catalyst for this unusual album was conductor Michael Waldron finding a copy of Lennox Berkeley’s Variations on a Hymnby Orlando Gibbons in a music shop, then discovering that it had hardly been performed before, and never recorded. Premiered at the Aldeburgh Festival in 1952, the 19-minute long Variations is scored for chorus, string orchestra, organ and tenor. Gibbons’s solemn tune is heard first on string quartet, then in more animated variations with the performers in different combinations. The plangent episode for tenor and string orchestra, with Andrew Staples an evocative soloist, is especially memorable. Unlike many pieces touted as first recordings, the Variations is a substantial discovery.
Vaughan Williams’s Five Mystical Songs and The Lark Ascending seem more conservative choices, but neither sound as you might normally hear them. The Songs come in a version for string orchestra and piano, stripped down (by VW himself) from the full orchestral version used at the work’s premiere. The gain in intimacy is palpable in Michael Waldron’s sensitively shaped interpretation, where baritone Roderick Williams is the ideally expressive soloist.
The Lark Ascending, in a 2019 arrangement for violin and choir, may be harder to stomach for Vaughan Williams traditionalists, although Elena Urioste’s playing is excellent. Peter Warlock’s Capriol Suite (the string orchestra version) completes the disc, and is warmly enjoyable, the more so in Orchid’s superbly engineered recording.