Vaughan Williams: On Wenlock Edge; Five Mystical Songs

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COMPOSERS: Vaughan Williams
LABELS: Collins
WORKS: On Wenlock Edge; Five Mystical Songs
PERFORMER: Anthony Rolfe Johnson (tenor)Simon Keenlyside (baritone)Graham Johnson (piano); Duke Quartet
This generous selection of Vaughan Williams songs is a timely reminder of the richness of his lyrical genius and an ear for language which can rival Britten. Along with the well-known cycles, On Wenlock Edge and Five Mystical Songs, there are settings from many parts of his career as composer and arranger. The earliest song on the disc is a Romantic treatment of Tennyson’s ‘The Splendour Falls’ which is fascinating to compare with Britten’s much more famous setting.


All of the performing is carefully considered and the singers’ diction throughout is excellent. Keenlyside deploys an enormous range of colour in his contributions and, quite rightly, eschews misty distances for passionate involvement in a marvellous reading of the Five Mystical Songs. Anthony Rolfe Johnson brings a similar breadth of expression to these songs from open-hearted innocence in the folksong arrangement ‘Searching for Lambs’ to a dramatically gripping performance of On Wenlock Edge; his treatment of ‘Is my team ploughing?’ could well achieve classic status. At times when pitch and dynamic are on the high side, the vocal quality becomes a little squally, but this is a small price to pay for a very tempting issue. Jan Smaczny