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Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending; Piano Quintet etc

Duncan Riddell (violin), Abigail Fenna (viola), Mark Bebbington (piano); City of London Choir; Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Hilary Davan Wetton (Resonus)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Vaughan Williams
The Lark Ascending*; Piano Quintet; Romance**; Fantasia on the ‘Old 104th’ Psalm Tune†
*Duncan Riddell (violin), **Abigail Fenna (viola), Mark Bebbington (piano); †City of London Choir; Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Hilary Davan Wetton
Resonus RES10311   64:19 mins


Back in 1970 Sir Adrian Boult recorded Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on the ‘Old 104th’ Psalm Tune with Peter Katin, but the work has been ignored on record since. Its dramatic juxtapositions of Lisztian piano cadenzas with VW’s setting for choir and orchestra of Thomas Ravenscroft’s 17th-century psalm tune are stirringly captured on this new recording, where Mark Bebbington is the fiery soloist. Conductor Hilary Davan Wetton builds the piece effectively to a full-bore peroration, catching its occasionally unsettling mix of time-honoured sureties with a modern sense of dislocation.

Members of the Royal Philharmoninc Orchestra join Bebbington for an equally successful performance of the Piano Quintet, a work written over four decades earlier. Bebbington in particular embraces the rhapsodic turbulence of the music, pushing it to fever pitch in places. Vaughan Williams eventually withdrew the Quintet, concerned perhaps that he’d outgrown the succulent late Romanticism it expresses. But this full-blooded interpretation is a strong reminder that it remains eminently worth investigating.

The RPO’s leader Duncan Riddell is the supple, expressive soloist in The Lark Ascending, in the original version for violin and piano Vaughan Williams wrote before enlisting to serve in World War I. Bebbington proves a highly sensitive accompanist, as he is in the Romance for viola and piano. The Romance speaks a language halfway between the Piano Quintet and The Lark Ascending, and is sumptuously played by RPO principal viola Abigail Fenna. Nigel Simeone’s booklet notes ideally complement the music.


Terry Blain