Ralph Vaughan Williams Early Chamber Works

Ralph Vaughan Williams withdrew many of the works he wrote before 1907. Based on this release, he was too modest. In this collection of early chamber music performed by the London Solists Ensemble, one can tell RVW’s compositional voice isn’t fully formed, but there’s a simple beauty in them, nevertheless.

The disc opens with the 1903 piano quintet in C minor. Although RVW would withdraw it a few years later, at the time he considered it one of his most important compositions. There’s a dramatic sweep and expansiveness that keeps things moving along. Sometimes it sounds as if Vaughan Williams is trying a little too hard to top Brahms (or perhaps Schubert — the works shares the same instrumentation as the “Trout” quintet). On the whole, though, it’s a solid work, looking forward to RVW’s pre-war masterpieces.

The 1898 Quintet in D major for violin, cello clarinet, horn and piano is a thrilling, late romantic work. RVW employs a free-wheeling style, letting the evocative melodies unfold as they will. But while the work may follow Germanic romantic tradition, there’s still a certain Englishness to the music. I heard it in the harmonic progressions that sometimes employ the false relationships of English renaissance music.

It was only after his death that RVW’s “Roomance for Viola and Piano was discovered. This short work features a sinuously weaving melody sounds like it could have been an early sketch for “The Lark Ascending” (although it wasn’t). Violist Sarah-Jane Bradley gives an emotional reading to this welcome rediscovery.

“Six Studies in English Folk Song” (1926) has seen many incarnations. Originally written for cello and piano, Vaughan Williams arranged it for other instruements, including the clarinet version heard here. Anthony Pike playes these small tunes in a quiet, straight-forward fashion in an utterly charming performance.

Of course this is a must-have for Vaughan Williams compleatists. But these (mostly) suppressed works are of sufficient quality that most anyone who enjoys chamber music would appreciate the music on this album.

Ralph Vaughan Williams: Piano Quintet in C minor; Romance for Viola and Piano; Quintet in D major for violin, cello, clarinet, horn, and piano; Six Studies in English Folk Song for clarinet and piano
London Soloists Ensemble
Naxos

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