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Maconchy • Vaughan Williams: Songs, Vol. 1

James Geer (tenor), Ronald Woodley (piano) (Resonus)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

Machonchy • Vaughan Williams
Songs, Vol. 1: Maconchy: Faustus; Love Stood At My Door etc; Vaughan Williams: Songs of Travel; Four Poems by Fredegond Shove etc
James Geer (tenor), Ronald Woodley (piano)
Resonus RES 10299   66:15 mins

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This the first of two albums prepared for this year’s celebrations of Vaughan Williams’s 150th birthday, entwining some of the master’s songs with those of his pupil Elizabeth Maconchy. The Maconchy items, mostly unknown and unpublished, span the years from 1924 to 1971, by which time her musical language had toughened up far beyond the level of dissonance ever reached by her mentor. Yet if her fiercely abrasive dramatic scena Faustus appears a world away from the early 20th-century wayfaring of her teacher’s Songs of Travel, it’s still possible to trace links between the composers in some harmonic questionings, modal effects and a habit of plain speaking.

In the Vaughan Williams selections the album’s novelty for the listener may come in the voice register used: tenor rather than the baritone range usually associated with the songs. Experienced partners in exploring 20th-century British repertoire, James Geer and Ronald Woodley specialise in honesty and clarity rather than big personalities and glamour. Other tenors may spoon out more honey, but there’s still something valuable in Geer’s agile phrasing and direct attack, not least when he finishes Faustus by toppling headlong down the scale, obviously following Mephistopheles straight into the bowels of hell.

The pair equally deliver when a more spiritual mood is required, as in Vaughan Williams’s Shove settings of the 1920s – settings striking enough to recall Robert Louis Stevenson’s words in one of the poems in Songs of Travel: ‘Bright is the ring of words/When the right man rings them’.

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Geoff Brown