Vaughan Williams: The Solent

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Ralph Vaughan Williams
LABELS: Albion Records
ALBUM TITLE: Vaughan Williams: The Solent
WORKS: Three Impressions for Orchestra; Song of Travel (Book I); Four Hymns for Tenor, Viola Obbligato and Strings; Incidental Music to the Mayor of Casterbridge; Prelude on the Old Carol Tune
PERFORMER: Ronald Wood (baritone), Andrew Kennedy (tenor), Nicholas Bootiman (viola); Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Paul Daniel


The Three Impressions of 1903-07, as grouped by editor James Francis Brown, are an impressive Vaughan Williams rediscovery. Burley Heath and Harnham Down are each strongly written, full of atmosphere and, in Burley Heath’s folk-tinged case, pointing towards future achievements (Harnham Down is more post-Wagnerian). In The Solent, the achievement is there already. An evocation of the sea between the English mainland and the Isle of Wight, the work also commemorates the short-lived English poet Philip Marston, two of whose lines preface the score. From its opening clarinet solo, beautifully taken up by the strings, to the striking close for cellos and basses (as in A Sea Symphony, also begun in 1903), this is patently an early Vaughan Williams masterpiece.

Songs of Travel and the music for a 1951 BBC radio dramatisation of The Mayor of Casterbridge are more in the way of standard RVW territory. Much more special are the Four Hymns of 1912-14, where Andrew Kennedy’s otherwise fine singing is marred by annoying diction habits: as he shows us at the start of the first hymn’s second verse, the word is pronounced ‘Lord’ and not, as at the start of the first, ‘Lard’. Clearly impressed by the Three Impressions, the RLPO and Paul Daniel perform them excellently, and the other items also.


Malcolm Hayes