Though the words of A. E. Houseman are English to the core, and though the composer is one Ralph Vaughan Williams, the cycle On Wenlock Edge is anything but the pervasive pastoral rumblings that we would come to love a few years later. Vaughan Williams at the time was actually uncertain of his craft, and seeking remedies. He finally decided on taking some instruction from one Maurice Ravel, a few years his younger, and this cycle was created fresh on the heals of that influence. It has hints of the impressionism that Ravel used but never fully embraced, despite the appellation, and is rather declamatory in nature and fully expressive, albeit not quite echt English. But it’s close, and we love it no matter what.
Peter Warlock used William Butler Yeats poem The Curlew even though Yeats tried to stop it; but once word got out publicly about the quality of the composition—and it is by far Warlock’s best work—Yeats had to give in. It sports a Celtic dreaminess that establishes it as one of the finest cycles of its time.
The Australian pianist Noel Mewton-Wood, who took his own life tragically at the age of 31, was memorialized in a work by Arthur Bliss. Cecil Day Lewis wrote the elegy which Bliss soon set to music of a most affecting and almost blissful (pardon the pun) quality. Finally, the neglected Ivor Gurney (1890-1937) set more poetry of A. E. Houseman in his Ludlow and Teme, parts of which are taken from Houseman’s A Shropshire Lad. It is lovely and well set music, definitely suggesting a further look at this neglected composer.
The SACD sound is superb in every way here, nicely balanced and vividly presented. James Gilchrist is simply without peer in this music, and the accompanying forces (these works make use of piano quintet with the exception of The Curlew, where English horn and flute are added to the strings) are excellent. If you lack these pieces in your collection, look no further, and if you want the Super Audio version this is mandatory.
— Steven Ritter