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CD Review

Ralph Vaughan Williams

The Early Chamber Music

  • Piano Quintet in C minor
  • Nocturne and Scherzo
  • Suite de Ballet
  • Romance and pastorale
  • Romance
  • String Quartet in C minor
  • String Quintet in D Major
  • Scherzo
  • Three Préludes on Welsh Hymn Tunes
The Nash Ensemble
Hyperion CDA67381/2 2CDs 134m DDD
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This is an extremely important collection in the annals of Ralph Vaughan Williams' oeuvre in that it brings to light several important early works that have been overlooked for almost a hundred years. The composer was notoriously fastidious in pruning his earlier compositions and it is to our luck that most of these admittedly excellent works now see the light of day.

The sprawling Piano Quintet is unashamedly romantic in expression and outlook with a three-movement structure keeping to the rigid norms of the Stanfordian model. The delightful 'Nocturne and Scherzo' that follows is also very beautiful. The short 'Suite de Ballet' is a reminder of RVW's prowess in such dance-oriented works.

The composer's prowess as a violinist is demonstrated in the Romance and Pastorale, a beautiful work full of romantic inflexions and deep syncopations. The same goes for the lovely Romance for viola and piano, a work that explores the inner expressive beauty of this neglected instrument.

The second disc is more overtly concerned with string quartet and quintet medium. The early C minor quartet has elements of greatness imbued in it but the ideas are slightly fuddled and the composer was to improve quite immeasurably later. The D Major quintet makes interesting use of the clarinet and horn whilst a Scherzo for string quintet also survives. Finally there is the imaginatively titled, 'Household Music', one of the most ravishing pieces for string quintet ever composed.

The music is played with dedication by the wonderful Nash Ensemble and the whole production is a treasurable gem for all lovers of quality English chamber music.

Copyright © 2002, Gerald Fenech