Pan’s Anniversary; Margery Wentworth*; Peace, Come Away; To Sleep! To Sleep!; Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis (arr. Burke)
Mary Bevan, Sophie Bevan (soprano), Jess Dandy (contralto), *Johnny Herford (baritone), Timothy West, Samuel West (speakers); Choir of Clare College, Cambridge; Britten Sinfonia/William Vann
Albion ALBCD054 71:48 mins
Despite its hasty creation early in 1905, Pan’s Anniversary – the most substantial work on this album of first recordings – includes several pointers to future developments. Vaughan Williams was tasked to replace the lost music to this Jacobean masque, originally created to honour James I of England in 1621. One result is the hymn ‘Pan is our all’, a not quite definitive version of Vaughan Williams’s Sine Nomine (‘For all the saints’) – only the stirring final ‘alleluia’ is missing. Gustav Holst helped meet the stringent deadline by arranging some of the Elizabethan dances; the new Pan’s premiere at Bancroft Gardens, Stratford-upon-Avon surely inspired Holst’s suggestion that his innovative chamber opera of 1909, Sāvitri, might likewise be performed out-of-doors. The vernal setting of that 1905 production with its costumed actors, dancers and musicians undoubtedly cast a spell. Stripped of these visual elements, and with Vaughan Williams not quite his fully-formed self, the masque seems more a worthy curiosity despite William Vann’s direction of his excellent musicians, with Timothy and Samuel West taking the spoken parts.
Of the three remaining all-VW works, while two are competent student works, Margery Wentworth for baritone solo is characteristic in its wistful, flowing modality. Timothy Burke’s choral arrangement of the Tallis Fantasia, though a welcome diversion during lockdown for the Chorus of the Northern Sinfonia, and well-performed here by the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, is a poor substitute for the wonderful string sonorities of VW’s original.