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Ralph Vaughan Williams

Select Chamber Works


Violin Sonata in A Major (1954)

RVW's only violin sonata was composed for Frederick Grinke, who had championed some of the composer's works. The work was dedicated to Grinke, who was also the soloist when the piece was premiered in a BBC radio broadcast on RVW's 82nd birthday. The last movement consists of six variations on a theme, and owes its origins to an unpublished 1903 piece of chamber music.

Recommended Recordings:
Hugh Bean, soloist, David Parkhouse, piano. EMI British Composers Series CDM565100-2

Six Studies in English Folk Song for Cello (1926)

The composer created several versions of the solo part of this work, for violin, viola, clarinet and of course, cello. In all cases the accompaniment is provided by a piano. It was originally written in 1926 for the cellist May Mukle, to whom it is dedicated. The studies are not simply arrangements of the original folksongs, which can reputedly be identified within the work.

Recommended Recordings:
Eileen Croxford, soloist, David Parkhouse, piano. EMI British Composers Series CDM565100-2

Phantasy Quintet (1912)

Vaughan Williams says hello to Elizabethan consort music one more time, though a bit less memorably than in the Tallis Fantasia. Still, you can't dismiss the work, which still shares some of the Fantasia's nobility and passion. Incidentally, this was a Cobbett commission – a British millionaire who loved the Elizabethan fantasia and paid composers to write their own. It's a fairly distinguished group, including works by Howells and Moeran and, perhaps most notably, Britten's Fantasy Quartet for oboe and string trio.

Recommended Recordings:
Music Group of London; EMI British Composers Series CDM565100-2
English Quartet (Blume, viola); Unicorn-Kanchana DKP(CD)9076
Medici Quartet (Rowland-Jones, viola); Nimbus NI5191

String Quartet #1 in G minor (1908, rev. 1921)

Vaughan Williams did not write much instrumental chamber music, his two string quartets lie about thirty years apart. He completed the first after studying with Ravel (although a friend said it sounded more like he'd "been having tea with Debussy") and it does seem kin to Ravel's own quartet, though not at quite the same level of blazing masterpiece. Still, it's very attractive indeed and imaginatively laid out for the players.

Recommended Recordings:
English String Quartet. Unicorn-Kanchana DKP(CD)9076
Medici String Quartet. Nimbus NI5191
Music Group of London; EMI British Composers Series CDM565100-2

String Quartet #2 in A minor (1942-44)

This work was written for the violist Jean Stewart, (hence the obscure subtitle "For Jean on her birthday"). The main theme of the scherzo was taken from RVW's own music for the film "49th Parallel". For the epilogue, Vaughan Williams reused music he had written for a film about Joan of Arc, which was never made … he always did hate wasting good tunes.
The second quartet comes from the same acerbic world as the Sixth Symphony. Each movement opens with a solo passage for the instrument. It's a fine work, if not as searing as Bartók or Shostakovich, and definitely worth investigating. The English and the Medici Quartets have recorded both, on the same disks as the Phantasy Quintet.

Recommended Recordings:
English String Quartet. Unicorn-Kanchana DKP(CD)9076
Medici String Quartet. Nimbus NI5191
Music Group of London; EMI British Composers Series CDM565100-2

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