Folk Songs, Vol. 1: Folk Songs from Sussex; Six English Folk Songs; Sea Songs from the Motherland Song Book, Vol. 4
Mary Bevan (soprano), Nicky Spence (tenor), Roderick Williams (baritone), Jack Liebeck (violin), William Vann (piano)
Albion ALBCD042 68:41 mins
The influence of English folk song on Vaughan Williams’s music has been widely documented, but most of the 80 folk song arrangements that he published have never been recorded. Albion Records aims to put that right, and this first instalment in a four-disc series has no fewer than 15 premiere recordings.
Unlike Britten in his folk song settings, Vaughan Williams generally doesn’t add harmonic ‘extras’ in the piano accompaniments to the basic vocal line, which is not to say that there are no surprises. In three of the settings a small choir unexpectedly abets the soloist – as a softly keening presence behind tenor Nicky Spence in ‘Low Down in the Broom’, for instance.
Spence is joined by soprano Mary Bevan and baritone Roderick Williams in an atmospheric setting of ‘Who is that that Raps at My Window?’, each singer playing a different character in the text. And violinist Jack Liebeck is also called upon for the obbligato parts in the sweetly mournful ‘How Cold the Wind doth Blow’ and the love-lorn ‘The Seeds of Love’.
All three soloists are careful to avoid an over-sophisticated response to songs whose strength is their directness of expression and simple integrity. Williams in particular is a perfect singer in this repertoire, with immaculate enunciation and a happy knack of letting the music speak unaffectedly for itself.
John Francis’s notes and annotations are excellent, and the sound is good. VW completists will certainly want to add this disc to their collection.
Find out more about Vaughan Williams and his works here