COMPOSERS: Holst,Parry,Vaughan Williams
ALBUM TITLE: Holst,Parry,Vaughan Williams
WORKS: The Mystic Trumpeter
Ode on the Nativity
The Sons of Light
PERFORMER: Teresa Cahill, Sheila Armstrong (soprano); The Bach Choir; Royal College of Music Chorus; London PO/David Willcocks; London SO/David Atherton
CATALOGUE NO: SRCD.270 Reissue (1980)
Yet another British classic from the wonderful Lyrita label finally makes it to CD. When this late Vaughan Williams cantata, written for the Schools Music Association, was first released on LP it sounded to me disappointingly second-rate. Ursula Vaughan William’s astrological verses felt heavy-handed, and the elderly composer seemed to be rehashing earlier mannerisms. Remastering, though, brings out the soaring choral textures much more clearly, and the enthusiastic energy behind them; there are echoes of earlier works, the London and Antarctic symphonies especially, but now they feel more like affectionate references in a surprisingly fresh and airy work. RVW avowedly didn’t spare his young choristers, but it must have been fun to sing.
Holst’s setting of Whitman’s vision of universal brotherhood is less dynamic than the RVW, but is no less visionary. One of his earliest and partial successes, it features musical elements, such as martial trumpet calls, prefiguring his later works. His original orchestration drowned the soprano, but Sheila Armstrong sings his revised version beautifully, with lively conducting by Atherton. Even finer, though, is Hubert Parry’s seldom-played Ode – not his Miltonic Ode on the Nativity but an ecstatic Christmas vision by that resonant Scottish Chaucerian William Dunbar. Lyrical, unstuffy and engaging, as conducted by Willcocks with an appropriately soaring soloist in Teresa Cahill, it deserves to be better known.
However, even classics get overtaken. In its long absence other fine versions of Sons of Light and The Mystic Trumpeter have appeared, in particular on Naxos – excellent value. But this collection remains well worth having, especially for the Parry. Michael Scott Rohan