If the compositions of the English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams are unfamiliar to you there is probably no better place to start than with this double CD from Chandos. Although I have many Vaughan Williams CDs and LPs in my collection, there were a few rarer items on these discs that I had no heard before; but having said that there are many established favourites too. The strength of the collection lies in the variety of the 13 pieces on offer. The set opens with the Overture to that rather strange work The Poisoned Kiss which bears some resemblance to the unique Oxford Elegy in that it has a speaker but this time accompanied by soloists, chorus and orchestra. There are Two Hymn-tune Preludes (but not the familiar Rhosymedre), the folk-dance The Running Set, the six-movement choral work Flos Campi, inspired by the Song of Solomon from the O.T., the rarely heard Suite for Viola and Orchestra and a short extract of Sea Songs.
The second CD opens with the Overture to Aristophanes' play The Wasps commissioned for a performance in Cambridge. There are three songs from the pre-Raphaelite song-cycle The House of Life of 1904, sung by Stephen Varcoe (baritone); the Six Studied in English Folk-Song, played in the less common arrangement for clarinet (Janet Hilton) and piano (Keith Swallow); the short Romance for harmonica (Tommy Reilly) and orchestra; an RVW favourite song, Linden Lea, sung by the Huddersfield Choral Society; and two very familiar works to end - the Fantasia on Greensleeves, and the Serenade to Music in its purely orchestra arrangement. This is an absolutely delightful selection of works by Ralph Vaughan Williams, beautifully sung, played and recorded.