Widely known for his orchestral and choral works, Ralph Vaughan Williams is rather less celebrated as a composer of music for reduced forces, yet he wrote chamber and instrumental pieces throughout his long creative life.
His earliest compositions, which date from 1895 (when he left the Royal College of Music) to 1908 (the year he went to Paris to study with Ravel) reveal a young creative artist attempting to establish his own personal musical language.
During these crucial formative years, he produced several substantial chamber works, including the two quintets presented on this month's new recording, none of which was published in his lifetime and none of which is thought to have been performed later than 1918, until they received a new lease of life towards the end of the century.
Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote chamber music throughout his long creative life. The Piano Quintet in C minor uses the same rich instrumentation as Schubert’s ‘Trout’Quintet, while the life-enhancing Quintet in D major has an alluring wit and playfulness of its own. Vaughan Williams’s discovery of English folk song contributed greatly to his mature creative voice, the Six Studies introducing subtle elaborations on each of the themes, while the origins of the undated but expressive Romance remain a mystery.
Listen to an excerpt from the Quintet for Clarinet, Horn and Piano Trio: Movt. I
Listen to Rick Phillips' podcast about the works on this disc
About the Artists
Formed in 2011 by some of Britain's most distinguished musicians, the members of the London Soloists Ensemble have very quickly established themselves as a chamber group of superb quality. Appointed Associate Ensemble for St John's Smith Square in London, the artists began their first series of Sunday afternoon concerts at this prestigious venue in June 2013. In a busy first season they also broadcast for BBC Radio 3 and have appeared in festivals and arts centres throughout the United Kingdom.
The popular overture from Vaughan Williams’s incidental music for Aristophanes’s The Wasps introduces a suite whose mischievously witty, noble and farcical movements underline the play’s satire of the Athenian legal system. A similar vivacity characterises his English Folksong Suite and The Running Set, where Vaughan Williams relishes setting tunes such as Barrack Hill, Irish Reel, The Blackthorn Stick and Cock o’ the North. Folksong-like melodies also feature in his magnificent Piano Concerto, in which the magisterial influence of Bach and Busoni may also be heard.
Ralph Vaughan Williams’s sublime Mass in G minor reveals the composer’s absorbing interest in using the modal harmonic language and contrapuntal textures of the English late Renaissance to achieve a huge emotional and dynamic range. Undoubtedly the most technically demanding work on this disc is A Vision of Aeroplanes, a virtuosic motet for mixed chorus and organ. Several neglected works also feature here, including The Voice outof the Whirlwind, an anthem for mixed chorus and orchestra or organ, and Valiant-for-truth, one of several works based on Bunyan’s Christian allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress.