Naxos are to be congratulated for bringing us beautifully played performances of these early, and probably to most people, unknown works by Vaughan Williams in recorded sound which is of the highest quality. The members of the London Soloists Ensemble, plus two other players, are all musicians of the front rank and their playing in these works is captivating, to say the least.
In the two quintets Vaughan Williams shows the unmistakable influence of Brahms including, in the work for violin, cello, clarinet, horn and piano, a clear, and probably conscious, reference to the slow movement of that composer's fourth symphony. Vaughan Williams was not, of course, alone in being influenced by the great German master. His teachers Parry and Stanford most certainly were, to say nothing of lesser men such as Somervell and Dyson, to name only two. These, perhaps, were never able to shake off that influence and that of other composers, but Vaughan Williams most certainly did and went on to develop his own highly individual style and musical language, becoming eventually one of the greatest composers of the twentieth century. In the Piano Quintet one feels that individuality is beginning to emerge when in the second movement the main theme bears a striking resemblance to his lovely song Silent Noon, which was composed in the same year.
There is more of the mature Vaughan Williams in the Six Studies in English Folk Song, which were composed much later than the two quintets. These are not simply arrangements, but are subtle elaborations on each of the songs. They are most beautifully played here by Anthony Pike and John Lenehan.
This is a disc of beautiful and largely undemanding music, which will give much pleasure, as well as revealing the early development of this great composer.