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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Two World Premiers, 8 Jun 2011
Dr. R. G. Bullock "Gavin Bullock" (Winchester, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Vaughan Williams/ Hadley: Garden Of Proserpine/ In The Fen Country/ Fen And Flood (Audio CD)
Albion Records' latest release is both its most ambitious and most important to date, containing the premiere recordings of Vaughan Williams' first major composition, The Garden of Proserpine, and Patrick Hadley's cantata, In the Fen Country. In addition, there is a performance of In the Fen Country and a rendition of The Captain's Apprentice, a folk song collected by Vaughan Williams and used in the Hadley work.

The Garden of Proserpine is a setting for soprano, chorus and orchestra of Swinburne's poem of the same name. It was first performed in 1899. Vaughan Williams was only 27 yet this choral work reveals a composer confident in handling a large orchestra and vocal resources. Swinburne was an enfant terrible of the world of poetry in 1866 when this poem was published: his sensuous imagery and atheistic outlook were frowned upon by society but appealed to many young people. Proserpine (or Persephone, in Greek) was the daughter of Zeus and Demeter. She was kidnapped by Hades, god of the underworld, while collecting flowers and made her his queen in the realm of the dead. In the poem she stands for death - "the sleep eternal/In an eternal night". More widely, it expresses a profound ennui amounting to a longing for life to end, and the ends of love and all good things - and bad.

Despite all this, Vaughan Williams has not written a gloomy piece. The last few minutes from "Then star nor sun shall waken..." become slightly sinister, with quiet but snarling muted brass but the mood quickly becomes benedictory with a beautiful (but too short) section, melodically reminiscent of Parry, finally fading out on a single horn note. This final section recalls material from the short orchestral introduction, giving a cyclical feel. The orchestration, particularly the brass, is bold and striking throughout and the vocal writing is natural and confident, foreshadowing the Sea Symphony. The composer had not found his strikingly original voice at this stage but the false picture of the "tongue-tied" English composer is convincingly denied. Taken together with the recent recordings of the early chamber works, it is clear that he was a highly competent musician, ready to grow to greatness over the following decade with a series of increasingly characteristic compositions.

Among those compositions was the lovely tone poem, In the Fen Country (1904) which is given a fine and expansive performance on this disc.

Patrick Hadley was a pupil and friend of Vaughan Williams and was a colourful professor of music at Cambridge. His home territory was the north Norfolk coast and his fine cantata, Fen and Flood, was composed in reaction to the terrible floods which afflicted Kings Lynn and adjacent coast in 1953 as a result of hurricane force winds combined with spring tides. Originally conceived for men's chorus, Vaughan Williams offered to arrange it for the conventional SATB chorus because, as an admirer of the piece, he thought this would give it wider appeal. Doubtful at first, Hadley became convinced and it is this version that is recorded here. At a mere twenty minutes, the piece is in two parts: the first describes the history of the fens, from prehistory to the draining of the fens by the Dutch. The second is dominated by a vivid description of floods of 1953 and the calm aftermath. Strikingly, Hadley uses the words of the police Superintendant, Fred Calvert, who directed operations at the time. This man was in the chorus at the first performance of the SATB version of the work in 1956. The music has great forward momentum, numbers following each other rapidly and without a break, and is by turns atmospheric, witty, bleak and tranquil, ending with a `hymn' of affirmation. The climax at the heart of the work, titled The Flood, is shattering, subsiding into The Calm, where a bleak repose is found. A fine piece.

The recording and performances are exemplary, as are the insert notes. Full texts are included.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars vaughan williams & hadley, 10 Jun 2011
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This review is from: Vaughan Williams/ Hadley: Garden Of Proserpine/ In The Fen Country/ Fen And Flood (Audio CD)
Albion's excellent series of Vaughan Williams rarities continues with this latest instalment which includes a world premiere recording of "The Garden of Proserpine" for mezzo-soprano, chorus and orchestra - VW's earliest large-scale attempt in the use of such forces. The text he sets is a 12-stanza poem by A.C. Swinburne in which the oblivion of death is welcomed as a solurion to life's woes. At this point in his life VW was probably still an atheist (before he settled into a comfortable agnosticism), so Swinburne's poem would have had an instant appeal. For all its influences, the music is not simply warmed-up Wagner or Brahms (or Parry), and there is more than a hint of the mature composer who, in barely ten years time, would be turning out a Sea Symphony (for rather similar forces).

The other VW piece on the disc is the better-known "In the Fen Country". Although written only five years after the above work (1904), it displays significant advances towards full maturity, including the folksong-like inflections and modalism we find in the Norfolk Rhapsody No.1 and, later, The Lark Ascending. There are some lovely instrumental solos, particularly for oboe and viola, which imbue the work with an air of desolation so redolent of the East Anglian landscape.

Alongside these VW works we have - at long last - a recording of Patrick Hadley's "Fen and Flood", although in VW's arrangement for SATB chorus (Hadley had composed it for male voices only). Like many of Hadley's major works (his masterpiece "The Trees So High" is the notable exception), the form of the piece is that of a montage, with fifteen short movements divided into two parts. Hadley avails himself of the opportunity to take us on a guided tour around East Anglia and its history, with movements entitled "The Monks of Ely", "The Dissolution", "Walsingham", and so forth, and there is ample room for the rendition of some Norfolk folksongs, including "The Painful Plough" and the haunting "Lynn (or Captain's) Apprentice". The wole piece, however, leads up to a climax depicting the disastrous floods that hit Norfolk (and Holland) on 31st. January 1953 when some 2,400 people lost their lives. The work ends with "St. Nicholas", a sturdy hymn of adoration, acknowledging God's sovereign power to save and protect.

The final short piece on the disc is VW's arrangement of "The Captain's Apprentice" (which he employed to good effect in his Norfolk Rhapsody No.1), here for baritone solo, which makes for an interesting contrast with Hadley's treatment of the same folksong in Fen and Flood.

All the forces (Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Paul Daniel; the Joyful Company of Singers, and soloists) perform well throughout, resulting in a superb CD which no lover of English music can afford to be without.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A most worthwhile revival, 2 Aug 2011
R. J. Tayler (Salares, Malaga, Spain) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Vaughan Williams/ Hadley: Garden Of Proserpine/ In The Fen Country/ Fen And Flood (Audio CD)
Once again unbounded gratitude is owed to Albion Records and the Ralph Vaughan Williams Society. Following their issue of a delightful and hitherto unrecorded work from the end of RVW's life, "Folk Songs of the Four Seasons", we have now been given a most beautiful and hitherto unknown piece from the other end of his career.
Swinburne's poem "The Garden of Proserpine" clothes nihilistic sentiments in verse of great beauty. The immediate impression given by RVW's setting of the verses is that he has concentrated on the beauty; this is indeed a most lovely work. I feel that there is little profit in trying either to trace influences on the young composer from other composers or of trying to catch foretastes of later, greater works. It stands in its own right as a valuable addition to the repertory, and I hope that there will be many more performances, and indeed recordings.
The music sounds as if it is very grateful to sing and the orchestration has nothing immature about it. As far as one can hear without a score the performances are excellent, sounding as if the piece were known repertoire rather than a first recording.
It is interesting to follow "The Garden of Proserpine" with George Lloyd's Seventh Symphony (a very great and scandalously neglected work) which is based on the same poem. The two composers are very different, and yet there are parallels to be heard between their two works.
The new recording alsocontains Patrick Hadley's "Fen and Flood", a moving piece inspired by the 1953 East Coast floods. To my ears the various sections, though attractive, do not quite cohere as a convincing whole. The performance is again totally committed.
The record also gives us as haunting and evocative performance as I have ever heard of RVW's "In the Fen Country".
This CD is essential to all lovers of Vaughan Williams' music, but will also appeal to anyone with a taste for late nineteenth century (and fairly conservative twentieth century, for the Hadley piece) choral music.
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