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Penguin Guide, January 2009

Toward the Unknown Region, like the glorious Dives and Lazarus, is comparatively well known, but The Songs of Light less so. It is a setting of three poems about the creation by Vaughan William’s wife, Ursula. The Voice out of the Whirlwind drawn on the magical Galliard for the Songs of the Morning from Job. But the real novelty here is a setting of Rossetti for baritone, optional female chorus and orchestra; and it is really rather beautiful. Altogether an unexpectedly attractive disc, very well sung played and recorded.




David Hurwitz
ClassicsToday.com, September 2006

Here's an enormously useful and enjoyable disc containing some well-known favorites (Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus, Toward the Unknown Region), alongside three rarities. The Voice out of the Whirlwind is a setting of words from the book of Job, and it consists of a vocal arrangement of the Galliard of the Sons of Morning from Ralph Vaughan Williams' eponymous ballet. It works quite well in this vocal setting. Willow-Wood is a very beautiful cantata for baritone, (mostly) wordless female chorus, and orchestra to a text by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Composed in the first decade of the 20th century, the music's sweetness and serenity anticipates the much later Serenade to Music.

The Sons of Light, a choral setting of three poems by the composer's wife, Ursula Wood, comes from the very end of Vaughan Williams' career, and it's full of those glittering sounds familiar from the last three symphonies. It was recorded once before, for Lyrita, but never released on CD, and it deserves to be better known. The performances here are all very good. Baritone Roderick Williams shows some unsteadiness in his lower register but otherwise sings with excellent diction and warm tone. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic plays very well for conductor David Lloyd-Jones, and the chorus, if not the last word in precision, sounds quite comfortable with music that's fun to sing and not too difficult to master. Very good sonics complete an essential addition to the Vaughan Williams discography.



MB
Limelight, March 2006

The main interest for most people in this release will be the world premiere recording of Willow­ Wood, the story of which was featured in the last issue of limelight. The cantata turns out to be highly Romantic both in idiom and content, with the lush, sensuous textures evoking a compelling atmosphere of mystery and thwarted passion in telling the tale of two lovers eternally separated. However, the other discovery here - another cantata called The Sons of Light, which has not been recorded since the LP era - is even finer. Written in 1950, when the composer was nearing 80, it is an imposing, powerful work whose majestic drive and imagi­native orchestration make a striking impact. The performances, by and large, are dutiful and earnest rather than inspired and exalted. Baritone Roderick Williams is an expressive soloist in Willow­Wood, the Liverpudlian strings bring out all the modal colourings of the Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus and the full orchestra plays with admirable alertness and sensitivity in the other four works. However, their efforts are let down by the choir, which is the disc's weakest link. The singers lose focus near the close of Toward the Unknown Region, their balance unravels in the short motet The Voice out of the Whirlwind and their singing becomes over-burdened with a palpable sense of effort in the lithe "The Song of the Zodiac" movement in The Sons of Light. Fortunately, these problems are not serious enough to preclude making this release a recommendable curiosity.



Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, January 2006

This release was an "Editor's Choice" in Gramophone Magazine (12/05) and features the world premiere recording of Ralph Vaughan Williams's "Willow-Wood" as well as the return to the catalog of his "The Sons of Light." Both are cantatas dating from 1909 and 1951 respectively. The former is a passionate outpouring for baritone, women's voices and orchestra that's not to be missed. Drawn from Dante Gabriel Rossetti's The House of Life, it consists of four interlinked sonnets, which describe a dreamlike, amorous encounter by a rustic well. The latter, scored for four-part chorus and orchestra, originated in response to a request for a work to be sung by a large choir of schoolchildren. It's a highly colorful, energetic piece with zodiacal associations and will appeal to all those who love the "Sinfonia antaractica" (his seventh symphony). "Toward the Unknown Region" and "The Voice out of the Whirlwind," both for chorus and orchestra, as well as "Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus" for strings and harp complete this outstanding program. "Toward..." will remind you of "A sea symphony" (his first symphony), which is understandable considering both were written about the same time and based on Walt Whitman's poetry. The words for "The Voice..." are taken from The Old Testament Book of Job so it's not surprising that it has strong musical associations with the composer's masque for dancing entitled "Job." The "Five Variants..." might be thought of as musical, free associations inspired by old, English folk songs. The performances couldn't be better and the recorded sound is good making this release required listening for all VW enthusiasts.





Gramophone, December 2005

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Classic FM, December 2005

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