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Vaughan Williams: On Wenlock Edge; The House of Life etc

Nicky Spence (tenor), Timothy Ridout (viola), Julius Drake (piano); Piatti Quartet (Hyperion)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Vaughan Williams
On Wenlock Edge; The House of Life; Four Hymns*; Six English Folk Songs; 15 Folk Songs from the Eastern Counties
Nicky Spence (tenor), *Timothy Ridout (viola), Julius Drake (piano); Piatti Quartet
Hyperion CDA68378   69:05 mins

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Nicky Spence was on the March issue’s cover, and his energetic sense of drama and adaptable characterisations have led to an impressive ‘rolling news’ of successes. These include opera performances at the ENO, New York Met and Frankfurt, and recordings of Schubert, Strauss and Janáček. This new recording marks a return to familiar territory since he has already participated in four volumes of the folk song settings of Vaughan Williams recorded on Albion.

In the 1914 cycle of Four Hymns, it is ‘Come Love’ that shows his technical accomplishments best as he expressively utilises the full range of dynamics and seamlessly melds with the sonorities of the duetting viola, beautifully played by Timothy Ridout. Just occasionally I did wonder whether Spence was actually a high baritone rather than a tenor, for example at the slightly tense top B flat in ‘Lord, Come Away’ as compared with the rich, relaxed low A in ‘Love’s Minstrels’ from the House of Life (1904). In the latter cycle it is the last song (‘Love’s Last Gift’) that shows the remarkable musical sensitivity of his tuning as he glides effortlessly through the many enharmonic changes.

The famous cycle On Wenlock Edge (1909) has often been recorded, but this is a fine rendering with ‘Bredon Hill’ providing some particularly sublime moments. As always Julius Drake’s accompanying is evocative and nuanced, and in ‘Is my team ploughing?’ the Piatti Quartet swathe the song in a delicate veil of tensile sound.

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Anthony Pryer