Vaughan Williams’s ‘The Bridal Day’

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Ralph Vaughan Williams
LABELS: Albion
ALBUM TITLE: Vaughan Williams
WORKS: The Bridal Day; Epithalamion
PERFORMER: John Hopkins (speaker); Philip Smith (baritone); Joyful Company of Singers; Britten Sinfonia/Alan Tongue
CATALOGUE NO: Albion ALBCD 025/026

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Even devoted fans of Vaughan Williams’s music may not recognise The Bridal Day, a masque he composed 1938-39, as the prototype of Epithalamion, his choral cantata of 1957. The initial redaction of the work had a narrator to recite Edmund Spenser’s verse, as well as mimers and dancers. This new recording is the only version currently available in the catalogue.

Fortunately it is a very good one. The septet of players from the Britten Sinfonia – a string quartet plus double bass, flute doubling on piccolo, and piano – ensure that Vaughan Williams’s music, by turns playful, lithe and sensually alluring, is winningly projected, and the baritone Philip Smith contributes warmly. Crucially the speaking part is judged perfectly by John Hopkins, who successfully avoids the hamminess that can easily result in mixed-media pieces.

After its unsatisfactory production on BBC Television, Vaughan Williams recast The Bridal Day, removing the mime, dance and narration, and recycling the music as Epithalamion. Though it too receives a fine performance, the effect is less fresh and nimble-footed than in The Bridal Day. That’s mainly because Epithalamion, though much better established, is actually a more conventional composition, less charmingly original in conception. This new release does a valuable service in bringing The Bridal Day back into circulation, and will hopefully stimulate some enterprising company into another tilt at staging it.

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Terry Blain