Vaughan Williams – Earth’s Wide Bounds
Communion Service in G minor; Valiant for Truth etc
Chapel Choir of the Royal Hospital Chelsea/William Vann; Joshua Ryan (organ)
Albion ALBCD051 78:05 mins
The Ralph Vaughan Williams Society continues to do sterling service in enabling first recordings of lesser-known Vaughan Williams compositions. The main premiere on this new release is the Communion Service in G minor, a re-casting of the Mass in G minor for use in the Church of England. The changes – including a text in English, re-ordered movements and some new music in the Responses – are certainly sufficient to warrant a recorded performance, and this is unquestionably a good one.
Vaughan Williams’s setting splits the choir in two, and in addition requires a solo quartet. No fewer than 20 of the Royal Hospital choir’s 24 singers are used as soloists across five movements, and if not always well matched in terms of vibrato their contributions are broadly convincing. Conductor William Vann skilfully combines purposeful tempos with a keen sensitivity to more reflective moments, notably in the Agnus Dei. An a cappella setting of Walt Whitman’s poem By the Bivouac’s Fitful Flame is the other first recording, and Vann is again an articulate guide, astutely balancing Vaughan Williams’s often tightly bunched eight-part harmonies.
The Te Deum in G is a more straightforward piece, delivered with lusty relish by the Royal Hospital choir, particularly in the ringing antiphonal exchanges. O Clap Your Hands has similar ebullience, and the motet Valiant-for-Truth is another interpretive highlight, the choir shaping Bunyan’s text with moving empathy. John Francis’s booklet notes are exemplary, and the sound is excellent. Warmly recommended to Vaughan Williams completists.