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Scene from The Merchant of Venice (1828) by Francis Danby (1793-1861)
Reproduced by courtesy of The Trustees of Sir John Soane's Museum, London / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDA66420
Recording details: February 1990
St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Antony Howell
Release date: September 1990
Total duration: 19 minutes 20 seconds

'Profoundly moving' (Gramophone)

'Strongly recommended!' (Fanfare, USA)

'Performances like these don't come along very often; each one is an absolute winner, and with rich, atmospheric recording quality the satisfaction is of a very special quality' (CDReview)

Five Mystical Songs
author of text

Other recordings available for download
Guildford Choral Society, Philharmonia Orchestra, Hilary Davan Wetton (conductor)
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Anyone who grew up with the hymnody of the Anglican Church will have grown up with George Herbert. ‘Let all the world in ev’ry corner sing’, ‘Teach me, my God and King’, ‘King of Glory, King of Peace’—these all helped to teach us, little though we might have been aware of it at the time, that good hymns could also be good verse. Later one got outside the hymn book and recognized Herbert also as a fine lyric poet:

How fresh, O Lord, how sweet and clean
Are thy returns! ev’n as the flowers in spring;
To which, besides their own demean,
The late-past frosts tributes of pleasure bring.
Grief melts away
Like snow in May,
As if there were no such cold thing.
part of The Flower, from The Temple, 1633

Herbert (1593–1633) was for eight years Public Orator at Cambridge, and cherished hopes of preferment at Court. For some reason this did not materialize and he entered the priesthood, therein to spend a mere three years before death cut him off. The Elizabethan age was by then well advanced and Herbert was a younger contemporary of Shakespeare. The English language was expanding and developing, and the Bible and the Prayer Book—known, through the Church, to all sorts and conditions of men—became an important catalyst in the process. Both what Herbert said (like most Anglicans he tried to steer a middle course between Romans and Puritans), and the way he said it, strongly appealed to the Christian agnostic (or ‘disappointed theist’) in Vaughan Williams. They were both preoccupied with that age-old conflict between God and World, Flesh and Spirit, Soul and Senses: it has many synonyms, and at least one Vaughan Williams masterpiece, Flos Campi, was born of it. Vaughan Williams completed the Five Mystical Songs in 1911 and conducted the first performance in September of that year during the Three Choirs Festival in Worcester. Two years before, Walford Davies had produced a large work for the Hereford meeting by name of Noble Numbers, a setting of eleven poems by Herrick and six by Herbert. The latter included ‘The Call’ and ‘Let all the world’, both of which are set by Vaughan Williams in the Mystical Songs; their respective settings of ‘Let all the world’ (later done memorably also by George Dyson and William Walton), both spirited and vigorous, pick the key of D major, a Vaughan Williams favourite for this mood (cf. the Benedicite and the ‘Galliard of the Sons of the Morning’ in Job). Vaughan Williams did not care for Walford Davies, whose music is almost completely forgotten today; but he is a figure not without interest, not least in the way his discerning literary taste may have influenced his contemporaries.

Of Vaughan Williams’s five settings, three—‘I got me flowers’, ‘The Call’ and ‘Let all the world’—reflect the hymnic stance and metre of the poems. The first-named has a definitely Pre-Raphaelite quality which takes us straight into the orbit of Debussy, a composer whose contribution to Vaughan Williams’s musical make-up is apt to be overlooked in favour of Ravel’s. ‘Easter’ is more elaborate in design and Michael Kennedy is surely right to ascribe its richness of orchestral detail to Elgarian prototypes. On the other hand, ‘Love bade me welcome’ looks both more inward and (in terms of Vaughan Williams’s own development) far further forward than the other songs. The rapt stillness at its centre—the Act, at which point in the traditionally Edenic key of E wordless voices intone the ‘O sacrum convivium’—is one of the great moments in Vaughan Williams, like the sighting of the New Jerusalem in Sancta Civitas.

from notes by Christopher Palmer İ 1990

Other albums featuring this work
'Vaughan Williams: Choral Works' (CDS44321/4)
Vaughan Williams: Choral Works
MP3 £20.00FLAC £20.00ALAC £20.00Buy by post £22.00 CDS44321/4  4CDs Boxed set (at a special price)  
'Vaughan Williams: Five Tudor Portraits & Five Mystical Songs' (CDH55004)
Vaughan Williams: Five Tudor Portraits & Five Mystical Songs
MP3 £3.75FLAC £3.75ALAC £3.75Buy by post £5.50 CDH55004  Helios (Hyperion's budget label)   Download currently discounted
'Vaughan Williams: Serenade to Music, Flos Campi, Mystical Songs' (CDA30025)
Vaughan Williams: Serenade to Music, Flos Campi, Mystical Songs
MP3 £7.99FLAC £7.99ALAC £7.99Buy by post £8.50 CDA30025  Hyperion 30th Anniversary series  

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