Lukasz Borowicz conducts Holst’s At the Boar’s Head and Vaughan Williams’s Riders to the Sea

COMPOSERS: Holst,Vaughan Williams
ALBUM TITLE: Holst * Vaughan Williams
WORKS: Holst: At the Boar’s Head; Vaughan Williams Riders to the Sea*
PERFORMER: Jonathan Lemalu, Eric Barry, Pawel Kolodziej, Krzysztof Szumanski, Kathleen Reveille, Adam Zdunikowski, Gary Griffiths, Nicole Percifield, Mateusz Stachura, Evanna Chiew, Anna Fijalkowska; *Warsaw Philharmonic Women’s Chamber Choir; Warsaw Chamber Opera Sinfonietta/Lukasz Borowicz

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Two operas, both written in the early 1920s by composers who were close friends, yet utterly different in character: one is Holst’s lively setting of Shakespeare involving Falstaff and his drinking companions, using English folksong in the manner of Stravinsky; the other is Vaughan Williams’s pithy setting of most of Synge’s play about bereavement, set on the Aran islands off the west coast of Ireland. Neither opera is well-known even in their native Britain, so Warsaw’s Ludwig van Beethoven Easter Festival was particularly enterprising in programming them as a double bill last year. In these live recordings, made in a single concert, conductor Lukasz Borowicz sets the scene with vivid and atmospheric orchestral playing.

Both works have previously been recorded with excellent British casts, which particularly benefits Holst’s word-driven At the Boar’s Head. This new account, involving a mix of mostly American-trained and Polish singers, has the added interest of being the first to offer the opera uncut, giving Falstaff and Prince Hal’s conversation in full, and more of the booze-fuelled singing of ditties. Yet despite characterful performances from Samoan bass-baritone Jonathan Lemalu as Falstaff and especially Welsh baritone Gary Griffiths as his rowdy friend Pistol, much of Shakespeare’s quick-witted and salty dialogue fails to register as vividly as in the earlier all-British EMI recording (now on Warner), in which Felicity Palmer in particular conveys more of Doll’s sharp tongue and her sentimentality than does Kathleen Reveille.

Yet Reveille proves her quality in Riders to the Sea. Her dignified portrayal of the bereaved mother is well complemented by soprano Nicole Percifield and Evanna Chiew (described as a mezzo but light-voiced enough for the role of younger sister) as her daughters and Griffiths as her last surviving son.

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Daniel Jaffé