"From Vaughan Williams’ Attic" = VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: The Wasps–Overture; Old King Cole–A Ballet; A Flourish for the Coronation; Serenade to Music; Thanksgiving for Victory; Scott of the Antarctic – Aoelian Orchestra/Ralph Vaughan Williams/London Choir and Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham (A Flourish)/Isobel Baillie, Eva Turner, Heddle Nash, Walter Widdop, et al/BBC Symphony Orchestra/ Sir Henry Wood (Serenade)/ Elsie Suddaby, soprano/Valentine Dyall, speaker/ BBC Symphony/Sir Adrian Boult (Thanksgiving)/ Margaret Ritchie, soprano/Philharmonia Orchestra/ Ernest Irving (Scott)
Dutton CDBP 9790, 72:10 [Distrib. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
Literally rescued from a damp attic belonging to the composer, the acoustic Vocalion recordings that feature Ralph Vaughan Williams at the podium in 1924, aged fifty-two, are among his earliest commercial inscriptions. The Overture to Aristophanes’ play The Wasps suffers some of the hollow reverberation typical of the early recording process, but the music-making is quick, jaunty, sarcastic. The ballet music for Old King Cole (1923) was written for members of the English Folk Dance Society, the main idea relating to a British chieftain at the time of the Roman occupation. His daughter, having married a Roman general, comes to visit, and the ballet music of eight sections is the entertainment in her honor. A diverse and motley selection of folk tunes appear, including Dives and Lazarus, The Jolly Thresherman, A Bold Young Farmer, and Go and ’list for a Tailor. Raucous and often militantly noisy, the dances wail and strut in rapid succession. The obvious exception comes in the pastoral form of the two Fiddler’s Dances, each conveying a misty beauty.
Vaughan Williams contributed to the ceremonies for King George VI with A Flourish for the Coronation, a short cantata (in clearly damaged acetate sound) led by Sir Thomas Beecham (1 March 1937) that falls into three sections. The first, taken from the Old Testament, occurs with much brassy fanfare in a decidedly Handelian or even Berlioz-like mode, “Let the Priest and the Prophet anoint him King.” Next, a devout hymn “O prince, desire to be honorable” sallies forth, the words taken from Chaucer. With organ accompaniment, the music achieves a valedictory affect rather reminiscent of Holst. The last sections returns to the opening sensibility, with the invocation Deo Gracias, or God Save Our King.
Michael Dutton has restored, in vital sound, the Serenade to Music inscription (15 October 1938) led by Sir Henry Wood for his own Jubilee at Queen’s Hall, sixteen famous singers contributing with words from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, Act V, Scene 1. Something of Debussy’s harmony infiltrates the otherwise Renaissance atmosphere of the piece, much of which suggests Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer in the Balcony Scene from Romeo (despite its reference to Erebus). The violin solo, naturally, invokes The Lark Ascending.
In 1943, the BBC Music Department commissioned Vaughan Williams for a victory anthem to celebrate the conquest of Hitler’s armies. The composer utilized Biblical text, Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill, and Shakespeare. Recorded on 5 November 1944 with Sir Adrian Boult–and broadcast Sunday 13 May 1945–the speaker commends “God’s Arm” as the source of celebration. “Proclaim liberty to the captives. . .comfort all that
mourn. . .give them beauty for ashes.” Snare, trumpets, and reverent choristers light up the hills of Britain with their Song of Thanksgiving, whose harmonies, to a sharp ear, resound with intervals from Wagner’s Parsifal. I did not know speaker Valentine Dyall, but he anticipates the equally reverberant voice of Christopher Lee.
Last, we have an eight-minute suite from the Ealing Studio film Scott of the Antarctic, recorded by Ernest Irving under the composer’s supervision 20 December 1948. Chimed percussion, vocalized soprano, and a wind machine contribute to the eerie, even fatal effects of the Antarctic landscape on the doomed expedition by Scott (John Mills). Ponies and penguins indeed make strange bedfellows. Magnificent in its deadly grandeur, the music could be a response to Hardy’s poem “The Convergence of the Twain.” Morbidly fascinating, the musical motifs became the basis of Vaughan Williams’ Seventh Symphony, Sinfonia Artarctica.
— Gary Lemco