Group 1 No 1: Prelude
Group 1 No 2: Carol
Group 1 No 3: Christmas Dance
Group 2 No 1: Ballad
Group 2 No 2: Moto perpetuo
Group 3 No 1: Musette
Group 3 No 2: Polka mélancolique
Group 3 No 3: Galop
The chief characteristic of Vaughan Williams’s Suite is the varied colour and lightness of the orchestration. The first movement is a Prelude in C major, the arpeggiated opening solo viola line surely a tribute to Bach (the opening C major Prelude of the ‘48’). It expands with a typical soaring lyrical treatment. A counter-melody first heard on the tutti violas leads to a pastoral middle section characterized by the opposition of the soloist in 9/8 and the orchestral accompaniment in 3/4. The arpeggiated music returns with a brief reminiscence of the pastoral theme serving as coda.
The simple carol tune of the second movement is reminiscent of both the ‘Land of our birth’ tune from Vaughan Williams’s A Song of Thanksgiving of 1945 and the Woodcutter’s song from The Pilgrim’s Progress. The last movement of Group 1 is the robust ‘Christmas Dance’, alternating 3/4 and 6/8. The beefy chordal treatment of the soloist and the stamping rhythms make clear this is a rural celebration, the viola taking the place of the village fiddler.
The second Group consists of only two numbers. We return to the opening tonality of C major for the ‘Ballad’, which is followed by a headlong ‘Moto perpetuo’ in C minor. The ‘Ballad’ begins in quiet mystery, with a long-spanning tune accompanied by muted strings. The intense feeling is maintained until the second half of the piece, a dancing 6/8 Allegro non troppo. The ‘Moto perpetuo’ has a galumphing country dance feel to it, the viola’s register, especially when double stopping, having a roughness that is emphasized by the changes from double to triple time. The soloist has no rest from the insistent semiquavers, and the tempo is too fast for an actual dance, the whole virtuosic invention being remarkably invigorating.
In the third Group we find a string of dance tunes. After the hurly-burly of the ‘Moto perpetuo’, the singing ‘Musette’ is a lullaby, the soloist now muted and accompanied by harp and muted lower strings, with a contrasted middle section in G major. There follows a ‘Polka mélancolique’ with a syncopated middle section. Perhaps Vaughan Williams is having his little joke here for the music is neither particularly melancholy nor distinctively a polka. It is rounded by a closing section in which, as if preparing for the finale, the viola plays a succession of short cadenzas. The Allegro molto of the ‘Galop’ finds Vaughan Williams in typical scherzando mood.
from notes by Lewis Foreman © 2011