COMPOSERS: Bax,Rubbra & Vaughan Williams,Sarah Rodgers
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: The King of the Golden River
WORKS: Music for tenor & string quartet
PERFORMER: Richard Edgar-Wilson (tenor), James Lisney (piano); Coull Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: SOMMCD 222
Nearly half this disc is given over to the setting, by Sarah Rodgers (b1953), of John Ruskin’s tale for his future bride Effie. It’s a pleasant, ballad-like piece, the accompaniment and pentatonic harmonies very reminiscent of Ravel’s Quartet, the vocal writing more in the line of Vaughan Williams. Edgar-Wilson’s expressive voice is one of which you don’t easily tire and the words of the narrative are clearly audible. With its lilting rhythms and recurring motifs, it’s a piece that would work well for children.
Prose stories are rarely set to music, probably because of the constraints the size of the text places on the composer. Certainly the booklet hints that Rodgers’s writing can be more adventurous than this.
Rubbra, using the same forces, treats the quartet more like a viol consort, its sustained linear texture reflecting the age in which Spenser, the poet of Amoretti, lived. The Two Medieval Songs (premiered on disc here, as are the two, much livelier Bax songs and the Rodgers) are intimate and deeply spiritual gems.
The addition of the piano for On Wenlock Edge results in instrumental writing that is almost orchestral in scope – but also draws attention to a slightly over-reverberant acoustic. James Lisney plays with panache and the Coull Quartet at last gets a chance to show its mettle. Janet Banks