Some of the greatest literature for small choirs
Presbyteros | Glassboro, NJ USA | 01/03/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is one disk of a previous EMI release of a double CD of folk song arrangements by Holst, Vaughan Williams, Warlock, Elgar, Britten, and others. The current edition contains the more desirable tracks. The Vaughan Williams tracks first appeared on a "Seraphim" LP about 1975.
Vaughan Williams' partsong arrangments are some of the best secular pieces in choral literature. Each one tells a story, frequently with different voice parts as characters (but not in a corny way). The part writing is exquisite. The "Five English Folk Songs" are frequently sung by college choirs, and I once sang "The Turtle Dove" as an audition piece.
The recorded performance ranks as one the the best recordings of small choir that I have ever heard. Veteran EMI producer Christopher Bishop called up some of the best British voices of the 1960s and 70s, called them the "London Madrigal Singers" and lead them through performances that cannot be bettered. This is music that can easily go wrong with too heavy a hand, or the "wrong" aesthetic. British good taste (admittedly not to everyone's liking) prevails, but it is not in the least "twee". Christopher Bishop produced some of the Adrian Boult Vaughan Williams sessions which makes him perfectly tuned in to the style. Ian Partridge (the finest "under the radar" tenor I have ever heard), Geoffrey Shaw, Christopher Keyte and Susan Longfield are the soloists, taken from the choir. This is the kind of choir (and the probably the same singers)that would show up as the "Louis Halsey Singers" on Argo recordings. Absolutely first rate.
The Holst tracks are well done, but a little problematic. The "Baccholian Singers of London" are a small all male group. This works in some of the tracks, such as "Song of the Blacksmith", although even there, some different color when the initial material repeats, would be welcome. The all male texture really lets you down in "I Love my Love", which really requires a mixed choir. On the other hand "Swansea Town" is perfect, with a real sea shanty flavor (and rivaling Robert Shaw).
Minor quibbles aside, this is a great chance to hear literature that you will enjoy whether a fan of English music, choral singing, or fine music in general. You will play this a lot."