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A Bridal Day (Vaughan Williams)

 
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Nerina
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 22, 2016 1:12 pm    Post subject: A Bridal Day (Vaughan Williams) Reply with quote

Ha! Something new!

John is the narrator on a first recording of Vaughan Williams' 'A Bridal Day'. This is part of an album called 'Fair Child of Beauty'. More details (and a link to some brief clips from the recording) here:

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and there's a nice mention of John in this review from Europadisc:

Even by their enterprising standards, the latest release from Albion Records Ė the recording label of the Ralph Vaughan Williams Society Ė is an exceptionally interesting one. It couples the 1957 cantata Epithalamion (a setting of texts by Edmund Spenser) with Vaughan Williamsís original 1938 masque version of the same material, entitled The Bridal Day. The young poet Ursula Wood (who would later become Vaughan Williamsís second wife) had originally approached the composer in spring 1938 with a different project, but their focus soon shifted to Spenserís Epithalamion, which recalls the wedding rites of ancient times, and the resultant masque scenario gave rise to some of RVWís tenderest music.

Side by side (and spread across two discs selling for the price of one), the two versions make for a particularly rewarding comparison. The Bridal Day is scored for narrator, baritone, small chorus, string quartet plus double bass, flute and piano. Some fifteen minutes longer than the later cantata version, it includes not just passages of narration (delivered with an admirable mixture of poise and feeling by John Hopkins) but some memorable, folk-style instrumental dances. Small the ensemble may be, but the members of the Britten Sinfonia caress the musicís modal contours with such passion that the effect is much bigger than the means. Itís a shame that Vaughan Williams felt the settings and choreography for the delayed first performance (a television broadcast in 1953) didnít work, for the extra music contained in this version, much of it folk-inspired, deserves to be far better known. Alan Tongue directs a performance of great commitment from the Britten Sinfonia and the Joyful Company of Singers, and admirers of the composer will surely relish the opportunity to get acquainted with this rarity.

Itís fascinating to go from the workís chamber version to the better-known 1957 cantata. Jettisoning the speaker and much of the purely instrumental music, this expands both the choir and the string section (to a full string orchestra). Here the opulence of the revised scoring and the greater role for chorus and baritone (Philip Smith in splendid voice) make up for the loss of intimacy and the cut dances. In this performance, the choir is particularly impressive, bringing a sense of involvement that emphasises the musicís folk connections. Once again, Laura Lucas puts in a deft performance on flute and piccolo.

Yet, for all the revisionís sumptuousness, thereís a nagging feeling that something special was lost when Vaughan Williams abandoned the innovative, music-theatre style scoring of The Bridal Day. Now, thanks to Albion Records, listeners can judge for themselves. And, of course, we donít have to choose between versions when we at last have both, and in very accomplished performances.

The recording, made in Londonís Henry Wood Hall, is pleasingly immediate and Stephen Connockís detailed booklet notes are first-rate, accompanied by full, annotated texts to make this a really attractive package.
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Nerina
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 22, 2016 1:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

There are a couple of photos of the recording sessions (June 2015) here:

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and I think that's John (in shorts) to the far right of the first picture?
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Miss Babs
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 23, 2016 2:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wonderful discovery, Nerina. Lovely to be able to hear clips of this work in the link. - it reminds me very much of the powerful reading John gave as Henry V at The Temple. I must try and get the CD.
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Miss Babs
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 25, 2016 3:47 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have just listened to the CD today.

What can I say?

Wondrous music to which John narrates the delightful poetry in his trademark crystal clear, mellifluously baritone-voice in all but two of the 11 tracks on CD1 (of two).

In this recording his voice manifests a majestic ethereal quality that interplays intense manly passion with moments of great romantic softness. It just HAS to be heard.

Order it from the link that Nerina has posted.
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Nerina
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 25, 2016 8:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for the description, Miss Babs - it sounds wonderful.

I will certainly be ordering the CD - John reading Spenser is too tempting to resist!

N.

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Nerina
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 07, 2016 6:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

'Fair Child of Beauty' was No. 14 in the Specialist Classical Chart last week which is pretty good going, particularly given that the pieces aren't well known.
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Miss Babs
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 21, 2016 12:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Did you get to hear the Album, Nerina?
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Nerina
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 21, 2016 12:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yes, Miss Babs - wonderful to have a recording of John delivering classical verse in that beautiful voice of his. I just wish there were more recordings of him available - but this one is a real treat.

I wonder if John's involvement in the Walton 'Henry V' art the Temple which you saw and mentioned in this thread was a motivating factor in him doing this recording. I imagine it's a skill in itself to deliver verse against music.
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Nerina
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 29, 2017 1:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Not new - but some nice reviews of 'Fair Child of Beauty':

Gramophone Magazine, March 2016
by Andrew Achenbach

Enthusiasts will, I fancy, enjoy spotting the kindred stylistic links with a number of key works, not least that spellbindingly original and sensual masterpiece Flos campi (1925). Alan Tongue masterminds outstandingly sympathetic accounts of both these rarities, drawing an enviably secure and consistently stylish response from the Joyful Company of Singers and members of the Britten Sinfonia, and there are also memorably eloquent contributions from speaker John Hopkins and baritone Philip Smith. Top-notch production values, too, from the expert team of Andrew Walton and Mike Clements.

***
BBC Music Magazine, July 2016
by Terry Blain

Even devoted fans of Vaughan Williamsís music may not recognise The Bridal Day, a masque composed in 1938-39, as the prototype of Epithalamion, his choral cantata of 1957. The initial redaction of the work had a narrator to recite Edmund Spenserís verse, as well as mimers and dancers. This new recording is the only version currently available in the catalogue. Fortunately it is a very good one. The septet of players from the Britten Sinfonia ensure that Vaughan Williamsís music, by turns playful, lithe and sensually alluring, is winningly projected, and the baritone Philip Smith contributes warmly. Crucially the speaking part is judged perfectly by John Hopkins, who successfully avoids the hamminess that can easily result in mixed-media pieces. This new release does a valuable service in bringing The Bridal Day back into circulation.

***
Records International, September 2016

There is much attractive music in both versions but rather more of it in the original [The Bridal Day], (and the speaker is not a stentorian old fogy but rather a young man speaking in a normal tone of voice) and the solo viola will recall 1925ís Flos Campi while the flute has some beautiful bird-call material. Vaughan Williams enthusiasts shouldnít hesitate!

***
Fanfare Magazine, Jan/Feb 2017
by Ronald E. Grames

The story that ties these two related works together centres on an attractive 27-year old poet named Ursula Wood who sought a meeting with RVW in 1938 to suggest a collaboration with him. The remarkable first musical fruit of that meeting of minds and hearts, a masque called The Bridal Day, is contained in this release from Albion Records. In 1957 Vaughan Williams reworked the masque into the relatively more familiar cantata for chorus, baritone solo, and string orchestra with flute and piano, named Epithalamion to distinguish it from the earlier work. Only a small amount of new music was added, but the celebration of marriage, no doubt of ever greater significance as he delighted in his May-December union, draws a special autumnal glow in the adaptation, especially in the later choruses. This is, as must be clear, the first commercial recording of the masque, and only the third of the cantata. It would be a valuable release then, even if the performances were less accomplished than they are. Conductor Alan Tongue leads both works with energy and perception. I wholeheartedly welcome this new recording. It is notable for the infectious freshness of the performances: the excellence of the Britten Sinfonia and the splendid septet drawn from its ranks, especially the fine violist Clare Finnimore in her solos; for the lovely and characterful singing of the chorus, quite perfect for the masque; and for the youthful ardour of baritone Philip Smith. Actor John Hopkins, whose reading of Spencer is almost music itself, adds the appropriate sense of occasion to the festivities in The Bridal Day. This is a mandatory purchase for all lovers of Vaughan Williamsís music: for the too-long neglected masque, and for the fine performance of the cantata.
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