Vaughan Williams: Folk Songs of the Four Seasons

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COMPOSERS: Vaughan Williams
LABELS: Albion
WORKS: Folk Songs of the Four Seasons; In Windsor Forest (arr. Foote)
PERFORMER: Choir of Clare College Cambridge; English Voices; The Dmitri Ensemble/David Willcocks


 A folk song suite for amateur women’s choirs may not tick every box when it comes to today’s notions of contemporary relevance. But as well as writing something that is very enjoyable to sing and to play, Vaughan Williams had a serious point to make in Folk Songs of the Four Seasons.

Modern life insulates us from nature, but as the anonymous creators of these songs knew, awareness of the passing of the seasons can bring us together and put our individual lives in a larger context – more successfully perhaps than conventional religion.

Vaughan Williams’s cyclical scheme underlines this point gently, but in the end it’s clear as in Britten’s almost exactly contemporary Spring Symphony. And some of these arrangements really ought to be better known, especially the unaccompanied ‘The Unquiet Grave’ – a miniature masterpiece fully worthy of the composer of the Three Shakespeare Songs


Guthrie Foote left out the mildly ribald ‘Drinking Song’ from his arrangement of In Windsor Forest (not for ladies’ ears, apparently); but it’s still great fun, and often touching – especially when performed with strong musicality and what sounds like completely unforced conviction by the women of Clare College Cambridge. The recording brings them to the fore, but the orchestral details are clear and warm enough. Stephen Johnson