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The new album from the London Choral Sinfonia centres around world premiere arrangements of Vaughan Williams’ works including his seminal “Silent Noon”, sung by renowned British tenor Andrew Staples (arranged for strings by Owain Park), and his rarely-performed Concerto Accademico featuring British violinist Jack Liebeck.
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: RETROSPECT
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)
In Windsor Forest*
1. I The Conspiracy
2. II Drinking Song
3. III Falstaff and the Fairies
Rachel Ambrose Evans, soprano
4. IV Wedding Chorus
5. V Epilogue
6. Land of our Birth*
7. Schmücke Dich, O Liebe Seele (J. S. Bach)**
Thomas Carroll, cello
8. Hymn tune Prelude on ‘Song 13’ (Orlando Gibbons)
9. The ‘Giant’ Fugue (J. S. Bach)
Violin Concerto in D minor – ‘Concerto Accademico’
10. I Allegro pesante
11. II Adagio
12. III Presto
Jack Liebeck, violin
13. Nothing is here for tears*
14. Silent Noon (arr. Owain Park)**
Andrew Staples, tenor
London Choral Sinfonia
Michael Waldron, conductor
Thomas Carroll, cello
Jack Liebeck, violin
Andrew Staples, tenor
*World Premiere Recording: version for strings and piano/organ
**World Premiere Recording
I have a clear memory of singing the Vaughan Williams anthem O Taste and See when I was very young. At that age I was generally more impressed with music that was loud, fast and bombastic. Somehow, this understated, quiet piece of music really resonated with me.
My love-affair with Vaughan Williams’ music had begun. At first, I explored the choral works, and latterly the symphonies. To this day I am still fascinated by the broad range of complexities and emotions to be found across his music: some is understated and speaks directly, whilst others are intense and are not at all transparent on first listen.
Before lockdown, I conducted a concert which included the Violin Concerto. I hadn’t chosen the programme, and I have to confess I’m not even sure I knew of this concerto at this point. Why not? Well, I’ve subsequently been reassured by speaking to several violinists who’ve replied along the lines of ‘oh yes, not many people play that’. I can only assume that its unusually short length yet high virtuosic demands result in it being overlooked in favour of the bigger, longer concertos.
I knew after that concert that I would love to do the piece again and, one day, record it. Even after all the years studying and working on it, I still find it beguiling. The first movement is a heady cocktail of Bach and early Stravinsky, with the essence of the rustic England pastoral thrown in via Hungarian folk music. It’s restless and brimming with energy, with irregular phrases and textures. All this gives way to an incredibly still – almost painfully static – second movement, which is bleak and barren. The coda, with its ascending scales and modal harmonies only serves to cement this otherworldliness. The mood is shattered instantly with the arrival of the frenetic, aggressive final movement, which takes most of the first page of the score to find a harmonic centre. Its irregular phrases and textures hark back to the spirit of the first movement. Unlike the triumphant resolution concluding the first, this final movement simply fizzles out. The music and the story continue somewhere into the ether…
The discovery of In Windsor Forest was a happy accident, after finding a vocal score in a second-hand book shop. I am at a loss as to why this charming cantata is not in regular circulation. The varied and characterful movements set popular and entertaining secular texts, with a typically-skilful and colourful orchestration from Vaughan Williams with smaller resources. I sincerely hope that choirs and orchestras of all sizes and abilities may get to know this piece. Likewise, Land of our birth and Nothing is here for tears are both relatively new discoveries, and again deserve to be much better known.
Vaughan Williams’ nod to the past permeates this disc, be it through texts, transcriptions, or musical references. The Gibbons Hymn Prelude is an impressionistic homage to the seventeenth-century melody, creating an intensely hazy and hushed atmosphere in a very short space of time. The ‘Giant’ Fugue and Schmücke Dich of Bach were must-haves for the album. Both are, in quite obvious ways, literal transcriptions of Bach’s melodies and counterpoint. Schmücke Dich is, to me, a miniature masterpiece. The dialogue between muted 1st violins and violas gently envelopes the soaring solo cello melodic line. This gives way to a more intense, unmuted repeat, where Vaughan Williams doubles the cello melody up the octave in the second violins, giving a real radiance to the music in a most understated way. Every note is to be cherished in this piece.
Vaughan Williams’ lifelong engagement with the culture of the past is well known. I hope this recording goes some way to shining a light on yet more undiscovered and lesser-known works by this great composer.
In Windsor Forest – cantata for mixed chorus, strings and piano (1928)
I The Conspiracy (‘Sigh no more ladies’)
II Drinking Song (‘Back and side go bare’)
III Falstaff and the Fairies (‘Round about in the fair ring-a’)
IV Wedding Chorus (‘See the Chariot at hand’)
V Epilogue (‘Whether men do laugh or weep’)
Sir John in Love was Vaughan Williams’ operatic version of Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor – a much-set subject, with at least 20 versions by the likes of Mozart’s rival Antonio Salieri (1799), the London-based Irishman William Balfe (1838), the German Otto Nicolai’s Singspiel (1849), Adolphe Adam’s opéra-comique, (1856) and of course Verdi’s Falstaff (1893). In addition, Vaughan Williams’ close friend Gustav Holst set all the tavern scenes from Henry IV parts 1 & 2 in his At the Boar’s Head (1925).
Vaughan Williams composed the opera between 1924 and 1928. The following year it received its premiere in a student production at the Royal College of Music, though its professional premiere had to wait until 1946, when Sadler’s Wells Opera staged it: more recent revivals have been given by ENO (in 2006) and by British Youth Opera (2022).
The composer was his own librettist for the piece and included numerous folk melodies along the way whilst also adding to Shakespeare’s text other poems of the period.
Like the Fantasia on Greensleeves – which finds a use for an interlude in the score – the cantata In Windsor Forest, first performed at London’s Queens Hall in 1931, brings to the concert platform five extracts from various points in the opera. Two versions exist: for orchestra and (recorded here) strings and piano.
The first extract, The Conspiracy, comes in Act 2 Scene 1 when the Merry Wives, having received Falstaff’s identical love-letters, comment on male treachery as they plot their revenge. We hear the Drinking Song (‘Back and side go bare’: words by John Still) in a busy street scene in Windsor in Act 1.
The third movement begins with the preparations to torment Falstaff before continuing into the ensuing final scene in nocturnal Windsor Forest itself (additional words from Ravenscroft and Lyly). Ben Jonson’s ‘See the Chariot at hand’ celebrates the wedding of Anne Page and Fenton. Lastly, we have the closing minutes of the opera (additional words from Campion and Rosseter’s Book of Ayres), as the rumbustious comedy is brought to an end.
Land of our Birth from ‘A Song of Thanksgiving’ (1944)
With the end of the Second World War coming in sight, in 1943 the BBC began discussions with Vaughan Williams to compose the piece that turned out to be Thanksgiving for Victory – intended to be broadcast when the desired goal had been achieved.
It was recorded on 5 November 1944 and broadcast during a special Thanksgiving Service on Sunday 13 May 1945: taking part were soprano Elsie Suddaby, actor and broadcaster Valentine Dyall, the BBC Chorus, a Choir of Children from the Thomas Coram Schools, organist George Thalben-Ball and the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Sir Adrian Boult; a concert performance followed later in the year. In 1952 the piece was renamed A Song of Thanksgiving.
Scored for soprano solo, speaker, mixed chorus and large orchestra, the result set texts from various sources including The Bible, Shakespeare, and Rudyard Kipling.
The section ‘Land of Our Birth’ – setting the Children’s Song that closes Kipling’s 1906 fantasy Puck of Pook’s Hill – has been published separately in various arrangements, including one for unison voices with optional descant. It is recorded here in John Leavitt’s SATB version with an accompaniment for strings and piano.
Schmücke dich, O liebe Seele, BWV 654 (Johann Sebastian Bach),
arr. Vaughan Williams (1956)
Amongst Bach’s many organ chorale preludes is a collection known as the Great Eighteen (BWV 651-668). Originally assembled in Weimar between 1710 and 1714, they were revised in Leipzig in 1739-42. Among them is ‘Schmücke dich, O liebe Seele’ (‘Adorn thyself, O dear soul’), whose original text connects it closely to the Communion service.
On 29 December, 1956, the great cellist Pablo Casals celebrated his 80th birthday. The previous day, the London Bach Group had given a concert at Friends House on Euston Road in aid of the Casals Birthday Fund. On that occasion Anthony Pini gave the first performance of Vaughan Williams’ arrangement for cello and strings of Bach’s ‘Schmücke dich’, written in honour of Casals – a famous and indeed groundbreaking Bach interpreter – with the Collegium Musicum Londonii under John Minchinton.
Hymn Tune Prelude on ‘Song 13’ (Orlando Gibbons, 1928)
This short work was based on a simple hymn tune consisting of just a treble and bass line, taken from The Hymnes and Songs of the Church with texts by George Wither, published in London in 1623 and set by the Elizabethan composer Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625). Vaughan Williams chose it to set two different texts in The English Hymnal (1906), which he co-edited with Percy Dearmer.
His subsequent prelude was written for and dedicated to the leading British pianist Harriet Cohen, who premiered it at Wigmore Hall on 14 January, 1930, and recorded it in 1947. This arrangement for string orchestra was made with the composer’s permission by his former pupil Helen Glatz.
Around Gibbons’ melody Vaughan Williams creates an unfolding contrapuntal texture with important inner parts, including at the centre a kind of tenor line setting Wither’s original words, adapted from The Song of Solomon: ‘O, my love, how comely now / And how beautiful art thou / Thou of dovelike eyes a paire / Shining hast within thine haire / And thy locks like kidlings be / Which from Gilead hill we see.’
The ‘Giant’ Fugue (Chorale Prelude ‘Wir glauben all ‘an einen Gott’, BWV 680)
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), transcription for strings by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Arnold Foster (1898-1963)
Bach’s so called ‘Giant Fugue’ is in fact a chorale prelude contained in his Clavier-Übung III, a collection of organ music written in 1735-36 and published in 1739. It is sometimes also known as the German Organ Mass, containing as it does 21 chorale preludes relating to sections of the Lutheran Mass: BWV 680, a four-part fugue in D minor marked ‘in organo pleno’ (for full organ), uses as its subject Luther’s setting of the Credo.
Published around 1925, this transcription for string orchestra was made by Vaughan Williams with the assistance of his pupil Arnold Foster. The composer, incidentally, disliked what he called ‘the precise periwig manner’ of Bach playing – which is presumably to be avoided in this piece in particular.
Concerto Accademico for Violin and Orchestra (1924-25)
I Allegro pesante
Vaughan Williams wrote his violin concerto for the noted Hungarian-born, London-based violinist Jelly d’Arányi (1893-1966), dedicatee of both the Bartók violin sonatas as well as Ravel’s Tzigane, who gave the first performance in 1925. Later, prior to a performance to be given by Yehudi Menuhin in 1952, the composer dropped the initial title and renamed the piece simply Violin Concerto in D minor – though the original title has tended to stick.
Overall, and perhaps particularly in the largely jocular opening movement, the concerto has a broadly 1920s, neo-classical, almost Bachian-Baroque feel to it, with harder edges than in much of the composer’s previous output, plus more than a touch of rhythmic brilliance: the regular switches between 2/4, 3/4 and 6/8 are something we might even associate with d’Arányi’s fellow-Hungarian, Bartók – though equally there is lyricism among the spikiness, deriving from the ongoing inspiration of the folk tunes that by then had long provided a solid foundation for the composer’s musical language.
Near the beginning there is a ‘strict time’ cadenza, one of two in the movement. The solo part is taxing, with lots of double stopping throughout. A sudden increase in tempo brings the movement to a firm close.
The continuation is free in tempo: Vaughan Williams uses the marking ‘senza misura’ on three occasions. Later, beneath the soloist’s slowly rising phrases, the second violins take up an almost obsessive use of the traditional weeping figure used by generations of (particularly) Italian composers – an insistent falling second, each one slightly accented. The second time around this leads to a short solo cadenza before the orchestra returns and rising lines coalesce into a final, infinitely soft major chord.
A note in the score tells us that the opening theme of the finale is borrowed from the composer’s ‘romantic ballad opera’ Hugh the Drover, first staged in London in 1924. Thus begins a fast 6/8 movement making regular use of cross rhythms in a light-on-its-feet jig which is almost a moto perpetuo. The coda comprises a final cadenza – as if the solo violin were dancing a jig all by itself – bringing the concerto to a sudden, enigmatic close.
Nothing is here for tears (1936)
King George V died on 20 January, 1936. Six days later Nothing is here for tears had its first performance at a broadcast concert when the BBC Singers were conducted by Sir Walford Davies.
The choral song can be performed either in unison or in an SATB setting; there are also various possible accompaniments for piano, organ or orchestra. This recording is of John Leavitt’s arrangement of the sturdy, noble memorial setting for SATB and piano though using the original orchestration for organ and strings. The text is adapted from Milton’s poem Samson Agonistes.
Silent Noon (1902) arranged by Owain Park
In 1902 Vaughan Williams made a setting of six sonnets by the Pre-Raphaelite artist and writer Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-82) from the poet’s substantial collection The House of Life. The second of them is Silent Noon, which paints a picture of a couple of lovers experiencing the drowsy heat of a summer’s day in the English countryside – a similar background to that of The Lark Ascending. Often extracted from the cycle, it has become one of the composer’s most popular songs and will doubtless find further friends through Owain Park’s arrangement for tenor and strings.
© George Hall
This new album of music by Ralph Vaughan Williams, the latest by the London Choral Sinfonia and Michael Waldron, features collaborators including violinist Jack Liebeck and tenor Andrew Staples. The collection includes works such as Vaughan Williams’s Violin Concerto, performed by Liebeck; “In Windsor Forest,” adapted from the opera ‘Sir John in Love;’ and “Prelude on Gibbons’ Song 13,” newly orchestrated for strings.
Among these adaptations are Vaughan Williams’ own transcriptions of J.S. Bach’s works, including the ‘Giant’ Fugue and ‘Schmucke Dich’ chorale, reflecting his admiration for Bach’s music.
The album contains poignant pieces like “Nothing is here for tears,” a somber response to King George V’s death, and “Land of our birth,” an homage to Britain’s World War II victory.
Highlighting string arrangements, including the seminal “Silent Noon” arranged for strings by Owain Park, as well as world premieres, the album underscores Vaughan Williams’ musical adaptations and their ties to British legacies.
London Choral Sinfonia
“Fast becoming the go-to champions for contemporary British choral music” (Gramophone), the London Choral Sinfonia was formed for a concert in St Paul’s Cathedral, London, in 2015. Since then the LCS has secured a reputation as one of the leading chamber choir and orchestral ensembles. A busy performance schedule throughout the year sees the group appearing at venues including Cadogan Hall, St Paul’s Cathedral, Kings Place and St John’s Smith Square.
Aside from many of the major cornerstones of the repertoire, the LCS also seeks to champion new music, having premiered new works and recordings by numerous composers including Tarik O’Regan, Owain Park, Richard Pantcheff and Ian Assersohn. Notable premieres include former Composer-in-Residence Oliver Rudland’s Christmas Truce, with a libretto by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy.
Recent performance highlights include Bach Jauchzet Gott with Katherine Watson (soprano) and Crispian Steele-Perkins (trumpet), Bach Motets and Cello Suites with Guy Johnston (cello), Mozart Exsultate Jubilate with Mary Bevan (soprano), Britten St Nicolas with Nick Pritchard (tenor), and Brahms Ein Deutsches Requiem with Matthew Brook (baritone).
In addition to a busy concert schedule, the extensive LCS discography includes the three-volume collection of works for choir and orchestra by Richard Pantcheff and the award-winning Christmas album, O Holy Night. Their album, Colourise, featuring baritone Roderick Williams and tenor Andrew Staples, was released to critical acclaim. Described by Gramophone as ‘intensely moving’, the album reached over a million streams within the first months of its release. Sword in the Soul – released in April 2023 – was described as ‘beautifully judged’ (Gramophone) and ‘sublime’ (BBC Radio 3). Their double-disc release of works by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor in July 2023 features many world-premiere recordings, and was praised for its ‘fine recordings’ (The Sunday Times). Their most recent recording of music by Sir Stephen Hough was received to great critical acclaim: ‘Waldron directs his fresh-voiced choir with energising, always scrupulous ardour’ (BBC Music Magazine), and was selected as Editor’s Choir (Gramophone).
More information can be found at: www.thelcs.org
Michael is founder and Artistic Director of the London Choral Sinfonia (LCS) and has worked with many of the top choirs and orchestras in the UK and beyond, including the Philharmonia Orchestra, Hamburg Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Britten Sinfonia, Academy of Ancient Music, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Polyphony, London Mozart Players, Holst Singers and City of London Choir. He is Interim Director of Music with the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, Musical Director of Islington Choral Society, Artistic Director of London Lyric Opera and Musical Director of Epworth Choir.
His debut album release with the London Choral Sinfonia, O Holy Night, was selected by The Guardian as one of their top Christmas albums. Together with the LCS, he has since embarked on a multi-album project for Orchid Classics recording orchestral and choral music by Richard Pantcheff. Their album, Colourise, features a previously unrecorded cantata by Lennox Berkeley, and the first recording of Vaughan Williams’ Five Mystical Songs in an original chamber orchestration, featuring baritone Roderick Williams. Colourise was selected by The Times as one of their Best Albums of 2022.
Michael enjoys an extensive operatic career, including shows and projects for the Royal Opera House, English National Opera, Buxton International Festival, Opera Della Luna and West Green Opera.
Michael Waldron began his musical training as a chorister at St Ambrose College, Hale Barns. After a gap year Organ Scholarship at Worcester Cathedral, he held the Organ Scholarship at Trinity College, Cambridge, for four years. Here he studied under Stephen Layton, during which time he was involved with the Choir’s numerous international tours, concerts, broadcasts, and recordings.
More information can be found at: www.michael-waldron.com
In the 25 years since his debut with the Hallé, Jack Liebeck has worked with some of the world’s leading conductors including Andrew Litton, Leonard Slatkin, Karl-Heinz Steffens, Sir Mark Elder, Sakari Oramo, Vasily Petrenko, Sir Neville Marriner, Brett Dean, Daniel Harding, Jukka Pekka Saraste, David Robertson, Jakub Hrůša and major orchestras across the globe including Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, Swedish Radio, Oslo Philharmonic, Belgian National, MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony, Moscow State Symphony, Orquesta Sinfónica de Galicia, Spokane Symphony, St Louis Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony and most of the UK orchestras.
Jack’s fascination with all things scientific culminated in the founding of his own festival in 2008 to combine Music, Science and Art, Oxford May Music. He has collaborated with physicist Professor Brian Cox in several unique symphonic science programmes which have included the world premieres of two violin concertos written especially for Jack, Voyager Concerto by Dario Marianelli commissioned by the Queensland Symphony and Swedish Radio orchestras, and A Brief History of Time by Paul Dean, commissioned by Melbourne Symphony. Jack gave the online premiere of Taylor Scott Davis’ new concerto for violin, choir & orchestra To Sing of Love: a Triptych with the VOCES8 Foundation Choir and Orchestra conducted by Barnaby Smith.
Jack is the Artistic Director of the Australian Festival of Chamber Music from 2022, Émile Sauret Professor of Violin at the Royal Academy of Music and a member of Salieca Piano Trio. Also a professional photographer, he enjoys collaborating across many mediums and can be heard in the film soundtracks of The Theory of Everything, Jane Eyre and Anna Karenina.
Jack plays the ‘Ex-Wilhelmj’ J.B. Guadagnini violin dated 1785, and the ‘Professor David Bennett’ Joseph Henry bow.
Described by The Strad as a player of ‘authority and passion, with an unerring sense of direction, full of colour and underpinned by a clear musical intelligence’, Welsh cellist Thomas Carroll launched his career when he won both Young Concert Artists Trust, London and Young Concert Artists, New York, following on from many prizes at numerous international competitions. He has since gone on to give critically acclaimed debut recitals at Wigmore Hall (London), Alice Tully Hall (NY) Konzerthaus (Vienna) and in Boston, California, Florida and Washington DC, as well performing in many major venues and festivals across Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and America.
As a concerto soloist Thomas has appeared with orchestras such as the London Symphony Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, London Mozart Players, Royal and London Philharmonic Orchestras, the Vienna Chamber Orchestra (conducted by Heinrich Schiff), English Chamber Orchestra, Prague Philharmonic, Sofia Philharmonic, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and the Bayerischer Rundfunk Orchestra.
Much in demand as a chamber musician, Thomas has worked with the Belcea Quartet, Chilingirian Quartet, Endellion Quartet, Yehudi Menuhin, Ivry Gitlis, Gidon Kremer, Tasmin Little, Julian Rachlin, Janine Jansen, Nicola Benedetti, Christian Tetzlaff, Steven Isserlis, Mischa Maisky, YoYo Ma, Boris Pergamenschikow, Sir Antonio Pappano, Eugene Istomin, Ton Koopman, Emmanuel Pahud, Gervase de Peyer, Michael Collins, Emma Johnson, Sergei Leiferkus, Roderick Williams, Sir Thomas Allen, Dame Felicity Lott and Sir Willard White, among others. He is also a member of Trio Apaches, Salieca Trio and the London Conchord Ensemble.
He has recorded over thirty CDs for labels including Orchid Classics, Champs Hill Records, Decca, Naxos, Signum Classics and Paladino Music. He recently released the world premiere recording of Ittai Shapira’s double concerto for violin and cello, together with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, as well as continuing his recording series with the London Conchord Ensemble. His recording for Orchid Classics of works by Beethoven, Brahms and Schubert has received widespread critical acclaim – the Sunday Times described it as ‘enrapturing, sumptuous, sweeping, intense, intelligent and invigorating’ and the Guardian wrote that his versions of the pieces were ‘intensely musical accounts, with no details overlooked and no challenges ducked… not a note out of place.’ The CD was awarded Disk of the Year on the International Record Review site, MusicWeb International.
Alongside his career as a cellist, Thomas also enjoys an active life as conductor. Since conducting his debut performance in the Berlin Philharmonie in 2006, he has gone on to work with orchestras in the UK and abroad. He recently gave his conducting debut with the Hong Kong Philharmonic, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, The Philharmonia, The Presidential Symphony Orchestra in Turkey, as well as a return visit to the Brighton Philharmonic.
Since April 2012, Thomas has been Artistic Director of the Orpheus Sinfonia, during which time they have performed a complete Beethoven and Brahms cycle, recorded the orchestra’s first CD, now available on Signum Classics and worked regularly with soloists such as Dame Felicity Lott, Tasmin Little, Jack Liebeck, Roderick Williams and Tamsin Waley-Cohen.
Thomas is also a regular guest on many radio programs, performing and speaking live on the BBC, on which he has appeared many times a year since 2000, as well as stations internationally.
From 2004 until recently, he was Professor of Cello at the Royal College of Music in London as well as principle cello teacher at the Yehudi Menuhin School. In 2018, he was appointed Professor of Cello at the Hochschule of music in Cologne. Thomas was a pupil of Heinrich Schiff and Clemens Hagen, as well as working regularly with Steven Isserlis.
Andrew Staples’ creative output includes concert and opera singing, directing opera and other stage works, music film-making and photography. To these complementary disciplines, he brings a collaborative approach and a strong desire to tell better stories, that build connections between artists and audiences.
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