Music in the Heart

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Vaughan Williams
LABELS: Albion
ALBUM TITLE: Vaughan Williams
WORKS: Serenade to Music; The Pilgrim’s Journey; Radio broadcast – The Teachings of Parry and Stanford; Excerpt from the Funeral Service of Ralph Vaughan Williams


PERFORMER: 16 soloists; Liverpool PO/Ralph Vaughan Williams; Louis Bové (soprano), Clifford Scott (tenor), John Peck (baritone); Plymouth Choir, Plymouth Church of
the Pilgrims/Henry Pfohl; Arnold Ostlund Jr (organ)


The exquisite centrepiece here is Vaughan Williams’s own performance of the Serenade to Music from 1951, his 79th year. That Vaughan Williams wasn’t a great stick technician is well known: but great conducting has as much to do with science as alchemy. The ensemble in the Serenade can be woolly (the flutes come in a whole bar early at 4:47), but for most of the time the sense of freedom – as though the singers and players were floating around the beat rather than following it rigidly – is spellbinding. As with VW’s marvellous live Fifth Symphony, recorded the following year, there’s a special warmth and magic. Perhaps it’s simply that the performers felt they had to give something extra for this immensely loveable man. Whatever, it’s a deeply touching performance, despite the far-from-hi-fidelity sound, and I can’t imagine anyone who treasures the Serenade wanting to be without it. The Pilgrim’s Progress selection is another matter. The arrangement is more than competent, but the organ just doesn’t suit Vaughan Williams’s romantic devotional style: how can you get quasi-vocal expression from an instrument that – as Stravinsky put it – ‘never breathes’? Certainly not by adding vibrato. The soloists too are a fairly uninspiring team. Better go straight to VW’s talk on Stanford and Parry. It’s so much more than just a memoir: touching, full of lovely understated humour, and wise. Stephen Johnson