Traditional Carols, arranged for string quartet by Vaughan Jones
Manor House String Quartet [Vaughan Jones & Louise Bevan (violins), Adrian Smith (viola) & Julia Graham (cello)]
Recorded 16 & 17 August 2010 at MBJ Studios, London
CD No: MANOR HOUSE MUSIC 002 Duration: 69 minutes Reviewed: November 2010
I Saw Three Ships and other carols – Manor House String Quartet
Reviewed by Richard Farr
Some very well-known carols, plus one or two less familiar, are played by the Manor House String Quartet in arrangements by its leader Vaughan Jones who produces, in effect, twenty-three mini-sets of variations. Some of these have a brief introduction from which the carol first emerges and then is subjected to a whole battery of string-playing techniques, with added original counter-melodies and, at times, unexpected harmony. This procedure, in which the repeated melody remains intact and audible, produces several surprises!
“I Saw Three Ships”, the title track, sounding very contemporary with some subtle syncopation, gets the disc off to a foot-tapping start, while “In the Bleak Mid-Winter” – the most modern carol her – is given a backward-looking ride: Holst's tune becomes a miniature slow movement that brings Haydn to mind. The final (twenty-third) track on the disc, the longest at nearly six minutes, incorporates two melodies, the “Wexford Carol” and the so-called “Irish Carol”. Here the first melody enters without preamble and is given a butter-would-not-melt-in-the-mouth treatment, but as things progress we clearly end up with entertainment that the best Irish folk-band would be proud of. All the pieces have their own individual flavour and make happy, not to say merry, listening.
So is this a disc for Christmas? Nearly everyone will recognise all of the tunes but they are unlikely to hear them played this way at their local Christmas services. Conversely, anyone looking for the influence of the more extreme manifestations of twentieth-century 'serious' music will not find it. So, a release for all seasons ... and one that is great fun, too. As with the previous Manor House issue (link below) the playing and recording are first rate, and the attractive, informative booklet is beautifully produced.