COMPOSERS: Ralph Vaughan Williams
ALBUM TITLE: Vaughan Williams
WORKS: Sir John in Love
PERFORMER: Roderick Jones, Denis Dowling, April Cantelo, James Johnston, Pamela Bowden, Owen Brannigan, John Cameron, Marion Lowe; Sadler’s Wells Chorus; Philharmonia Orchestra/Stanford Robinson
CATALOGUE NO: Lyrita REAM.2122
Broadcast live on BBC Radio in 1956, this studio performance is something much more than a nostalgia-fest for aficionados only. If a few things now sound dated (eg some words of scene-setting by an announcer), little else does – least of all the work itself.
Setting Vaughan Williams’s own libretto based on The Merry Wives of Windsor, the score reveals the composer as a master of comic opera, deftly intercutting Shakespeare’s intricate word-play with the chromatically searching manner of works from the 1920s like the Pastoral Symphony or Flos Campi. Everything is drawn together in scintillating style, and the best moments – the Greensleeves interlude in Act IV, Mrs Quickly’s solos in Acts I and II, Mrs Page’s monologue telling the story of Herne the Hunter – are from an exceptional vintage in Vaughan Williams’s creativity.
Conducted with nonchalant skill by Stanford Robinson, the playing and singing are near-flawless, with one singer after another happily showing how to rise to an opportunity while not hogging the show. As Mrs Ford, Marion Lowe’s way with her Act III song ‘Alas my love, you do me wrong’ is an exquisite moment that would seduce anyone, never mind the ageing-resistant Sir John Falstaff, sung by Roderick Jones with rich humour that doesn’t lurch over the top; and the young April Cantelo’s fresh-voiced Anne Page is a beguiling pleasure. The recorded sound is excellently true and mellow for the vintage – only a little recessed, and conveying a feast of vocal and orchestral detail.