Vaughan Williams: On Wenlock Edge; Piano Quintet; Romance and Pastorale

COMPOSERS: Vaughan Williams
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Vaughan Williams
WORKS: On Wenlock Edge; Piano Quintet; Romance and Pastorale
PERFORMER: Mark Padmore (tenor); Schubert Ensemble; Alison Dods (violin)
There are encouraging signs that we’re getting away from the old image of Vaughan Williams as – in the words of one critic – ‘the eulogist of Cream Tea England.’ Even firm favourites like the Tallis Fantasia and The Lark Ascending are deeper, darker and much more original than recieved opinion would have us believe. And in this performance On Wenlock Edge emerges as far more than a nostalgic ramble into AE Housman’s ‘blue remembered hills’, coloured by the composer’s recent studies with Ravel. The first song speaks of ‘anger’ and ‘trouble’, and there’s plenty of both in Mark Padmore’s performance. ‘Bredon Hill’ rises from a magical but uneasy beginning to a truly unsettling climax. Listeners may want to pause a little before listening to the initially easy-going finale, ‘Clun’ – though the ending fully redeems this movement. Even ‘Is my team ploughing’ has a startling sense of edgy drama. Too much hindsight is bad for critics, but it’s very difficult to resist the impression that in 1909 Vaughan Williams had some sense of of pitch, crystal clear enunciation and a wonderful feeling for long lines. The members of the Schubert Ensemble make superb musical partners here, and then make the strongest case yet for the earlier Piano Quintet – proof that even when the young VW is imitating Brahms he still sounds like Vaughan Williams. Romance and Pastorale is slighter stuff, but beautifull played.