Like to the Lark
Vaughan Williams: Rest; Three Shakespeare Songs; The Lark Ascending*; plus works by Alfvén, Judith Bingham, Ola Gjeilo, Mahler, Stanford, Stenhammar & Wikander
*Jennifer Pike (violin); Swedish Chamber Choir/Simon Phipps
Chandos CHSA 5255 (hybrid CD/SACD) 63:54 mins
Listening to Simon Phipps’s immaculately accomplished Swedish Chamber Choir is rather like sinking gently into a warm bath bubbling over with your favourite scented lotions. After the emollient harmonies of Stenhammar’s Three Choral Songs, you may wonder if the choir’s velvet blend could get any smoother. Answer comes with Serenity from the contemporary Norwegian Ola Gjeilo, smoother still; burnished with ecstasy as well, along with Jennifer Pike’s sweet solo violin.
Other Scandinavian items and Clytus Gottwald’s luscious arrangement of Mahler’s Rückert setting ‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen’ add further pleasure, though the stand-out track in this anthology is Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending, performed in an ingenious arrangement by Paul Drayton for violin and chamber choir, specially devised for Phipps’s forces. Instead of the orchestra’s familiar limpid textures, we mostly hear open vowel sounds or humming, though words from VW’s literary inspiration, a George Meredith poem, seep into the middle section. Two results follow. The lark’s ‘accompaniment’ becomes much more otherworldly, while the solo violin part – given a particularly rhapsodic spin by Pike – shines with a brighter aura.
The British items include early and late VW (Rest and Three Shakespeare Songs) and Judith Bingham’s The Drowned Lovers, a mordant prequel to Stanford’s song of innocence, The Blue Bird, where Maria Forsström’s vibrato-laden mezzo gets a little intrusive. But nothing sullies the bath bubbles for long in this album combining refreshing repertoire with refined choral bliss.