Vaughan Williams Earth and Sky
Choral works: Three Vocal Valses from the Songs of the Wrens; Three Gaelic Songs, The Airmen’s Hymn, etc
Chapel Choir of the Royal Hospital Chelsea/William Vann (piano); Hugh Rowlands (organ)
Albion Records ALBCD 034 63:06 mins
In this choral recital Albion Records continues its valiant mission to unearth unfamiliar Vaughan Williams: 21 of these 22 pieces are first recordings. The earliest of them don’t obviously pre-echo the achievements of the mature composer. The Three Vocal Valses from 1896 set poems by Tennyson. They lilt pleasantly and have sweet harmonic touches, but are otherwise innocuous. Sound Sleep, from seven years later, goes deeper emotionally, showing a sharper dramatic reaction to Christina Rossetti’s graveyard meditation. A group of folk song arrangements elicits breezy, rhythmically engaging performances from the Royal Hospital singers. Baritone Thomas Stoddart contributes a poignant solo in Old Folks at Home, although the exposed sectional writing reveals some slippery tuning, and a mix of approaches to the use of vibrato.
The most substantial music comes in the clutch of sacred settings. In O Praise the Lord of Heaven, for double choir and semi-chorus, conductor William Vann secures a vibrantly projected performance from his 20 singers. The hymn Little Cloister brings inspiriting unison singing from the consistently fine sopranos. The concluding Three Gaelic Songs show the Royal Hospital choir at its finest – sensitive and heartfelt in the more reflective outer songs, perky and incisive in the rousing ‘Come Let Us Gather Cockles’. William Vann’s conducting is both energising and unobtrusive, and the sound is pleasingly natural and well balanced. None of the music here is indispensable Vaughan Williams, but it has enough interest to more than justify the recording.