Vaughan Williams – Sacred Choral Music

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COMPOSERS: Vaughan Williams
WORKS: Three Choral Hymns; A Vision of Aeroplanes; Mass in G minor; The Voice out of the Whirlwind; Valiant-for-truth; The Souls of the Righteous etc
PERFORMER: The Choir of Clare College, Cambridge/Timothy Brown; James McVinnie, Ashok Gupta (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.572465


Yes, Vaughan Williams did sometimes repeat himself. But given how much he wrote it’s striking how many of his works, large- and small-scale, stand on their own, essentially unrepeatable.

There are two fine examples here. Vision of Aeroplanes, based on a particularly hallucinogenic passage from the biblical book of Ezekiel, pitches some of Vaughan Williams’s most hard-edged choral writing against an astringently brilliant organ part – full marks to organist James McVinnie for his exhilarating, switchback-ride performance here, and compliments to the Naxos sound team for achieving clarity within a faithful representation of the St John’s College acoustic. 

The better-known Mass in G minor used to be dismissed (by some) as a musical equivalent of suburban mock-Tudor architecture, but with time its purity and originality of style have come to be more justly appreciated. The Clare College
Choir version isn’t the most beautiful sounding recording – the Hickox/LSO Chorus Chandos version scoops up the laurels there. But what impresses about this performance is the exceptional sense of shape, both in overview and in tiny details.


At times the long sweeping lines bring to mind the paintings of William Blake – as, for more obvious reasons, does The Voice out of the Whirlwind. On the face of it this is a relatively straightforward reworking of the ‘Galliard of the Sons of the Morning’ from the Blake-based ballet Job, yet in spirit the music is transformed into something new. Similarly Valiant-for-truth is so much more than a satellite of The Pilgrim’s Progress; in fact in its modest way it makes it point more tellingly than the opera does. This comes with a strong recommendation. Stephen Johnson