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CD Review

Ralph Vaughan Williams


  • Merciless Beauty
  • Two English Folksongs
  • Ten Blake Songs
  • Along the Field
  • On Wenlock Edge
John Mark Ainsley
The Nash Ensemble
Hyperion CDA67168 69m DDD
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Whilst the symphonic music of Vaughan Williams has gained quite a foothold in the repertoire, most of his song cycles remain on the fringes of the repertoire. This lovingly and beautifully presented record should go some way towards redressing the balance as it contains, what, to my mind, are some of the finest song performances ever committed to disc.

The mystical exploratory tune of 'Merciless Beauty' is winningly done by Ainsley and the supportive instruments from the Nash Ensemble are perfectly discreet. The composer's fascination with Blake is enshrined in ten songs on the latter's text and they come alive quite magnificently in this reduced scoring for violin and oboe. The same goes for the entertaining cycle, 'Along the Field' which is quite a rarity but which espouses many of the finest virtues of English song writing.

Finally there is the magisterial, 'On Wenlock Edge' here scored for voice, piano and string quartet. If perhaps not totally displacing the orchestral version recorded by Boult in the 70's, this new recording is a model of clarity and precision with the piano sensitively charged and approaching the score with panache.

Ainsley is a reticently attuned exponent of the text but this all fits into the clearer picture of perennially English music making. Notes and texts are of the highest standards expected from Hyperion and this issue fits snugly alongside previous ones of Ireland, Bliss and Stanford in this wonderful English song series.

Copyright © 2001, Gerald Fenech