A Masque is usually a combination of dance, song and speech, and Vaughan Williams choose to subtitle this as a Masque because he felt it was a better description than ballet. A major score, strangely neglected, the work foreshadows the bristling Symphony #4. Vaughan Williams based this ballet on William Blake's illustrations for the Book of Job and on a scenario derived from them by the great Blake scholar Geoffrey Keynes. I know of no other music that conjures up the complex, mystical, and deeply humane worlds of William Blake as this work does from the opening bars. The ballet is symphonic in scope and method and yet depicts the narrative as well. Vernon Handley's EMI outing is good, but Adrian Boult's hooks you with the first few notes and never lets you go.
Recommended Recordings:London Symphony Orchestra; Adrian Boult. EMI CDM769710 2
London Philharmonic Orchestra; Vernon Handley. EMI CDM62016 2
Another oddity and an entertainment. Vaughan Williams seems to have caught the 1920's fever for distance and irony in this ballet. The opening numbers, including a loopy harmonizing of the title tune, show a "cock-snoot" humour not normally associated with the composer. Perhaps for this reason, it hasn't caught on, even to the extent that Job has. Still, we get enough of the lyrical Vaughan Williams in the love music of the third fiddler (the King calls for his fiddlers three, and they show up). Boult recorded some of this in the mono era – it's good, but it doesn't stand up to Richard Hickox's gloriously complete version in full stereo. Neither Decca nor EMI has seen fit to transfer it to CD.
Recommended Recordings:London Philharmonic Orchestra; Adrian Boult. Decca (LP) ECS 612
The Sinfonia Chorus; Northern Sinfonia; Richard Hickox. EMI (LP) DS-38129
For Vaughan Williams, folk music meant not only folk song, but folk dance as well. He was for many years an active and enthusiastic member of the English Folk Dance Society. This short, unpretentious piece is kind of an homage to Playford's "English Dancing Master." It takes up several fast tunes against a melodic ostinato and works up a lively run. Richard Hickox conducts my preferred performance (not currently available), but George Hurst is a good alternative.
Recommended Recordings:Northern Sinfonia of England; Richard Hickox. EMI (LP) DS-38244
Bournemouth Sinfonietta; George Hurst. Chandos CHAN8432
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