Folk Songs of the Four Seasons
In Windsor Forest [arranged by Guthrie Foote for women's voices]
The Choir of Clare College Cambridge
The Dimitri Ensemble
Sir David Willcocks
Recorded 9 & 10 January 2009 in West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge
CD No: ALBION RECORDS ALBCD010
Duration: 55 minutes
Reviewed: November 2009
Anyone who thinks that a release containing folksong arrangements for women's voices, commissioned by the Women's Institute, won’t have them rushing to record shops, might wish to think again, for this issue, containing two premiere recordings, whilst hardly making any claim to be truly great examples of Vaughan Williams’s music, is a delight and gives much pleasure.
The performances, under the seemingly indefatigable Sir David Willcocks (who turns 90 on 30 December 2009), are excellent – indeed this young choir could show more experienced groups a thing or two when it comes to diction, energy, musicality and sheer beauty of tone. Trained as these singers are by Timothy Brown one should perhaps not be so surprised at the end result, but singing of this quality nonetheless should be heard by anyone with even a passing interest in choral music. The solo parts are astonishingly accomplished – taken by members of English Voices – it isn't entirely clear what the relationship of this group is to Clare College Choir, but that hardly matters. The orchestral contribution (by players from The Dmitri Ensemble and sounding far more in personnel than that title would suggest!) is equally distinguished.
From the 40-minute “Folk Songs of the Four Seasons” (composed in 1950 and first-conducted by Sir Adrian Boult) there are too many gems to list here, but it is worth listening out for 'The Unquiet Grave' (from 'Autumn') which will stop the hardest of hearts, and the very opening of the work, the Prologue 'To the Ploughboy' in which the chorus certainly respond to the words “sing and be merry withal”.
“In Windsor Forest” is better known, being an adaptation by the composer of music from his opera 'Sir John in Love' – though still not performed that often. This arrangement for women's voices was made by Guthrie Foote of Oxford University Press and if anything seems even more effective than the original. Especially memorable is the first movement 'Sigh no more Ladies' which zips along, sparkling with wit, whilst the central 'Wedding Chorus' is Vaughan Williams in “Serenade to Music” mood – completely ravishing. This arrangement leaves out one movement from the original SATB version, the ‘Drinking Song’ – not considered suitable for a ladies’ choir, maybe!
This warmly recommended release is blessed by sound-quality that is beautifully balanced, every note ringing true and clear.