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Phantasy Quintet

'Vaughan Williams: Chamber Music' (CDA67313)
Vaughan Williams: Chamber Music
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67313 
Movement 1: Prelude: Lento ma non troppo
Movement 2: Scherzo: Prestissimo
Movement 3: Alla Sarabanda: Lento
Movement 4: Burlesca: Allegro moderato

Phantasy Quintet
The Phantasy Quintet, composed in 1912, arose under the auspices of Walter Wilson Cobbett (1847–1937), a businessman and amateur musician whose dual passion was chamber music and music of the Elizabethan period. He was particularly interested in the instrumental ‘fantasy’ form (or, in his preferred spelling, ‘phantasy’) where several unrelated but varied sections formed the basis for an extended work. In 1905 he established a prize for chamber works in one movement which resulted in many compositions adopting this form by composers such as Bridge, Ireland and Howells. He also commissioned works in his favoured form, among them Vaughan Williams’s Phantasy Quintet where the composer added a second viola to the standard string quartet. The London String Quartet, led by Albert Sammons with James Lockyer as the extra violist, gave the premiere on 23 March 1914 and shared the dedication with Cobbett. It is a work of the composer’s early maturity demonstrating his indebtedness to English music of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and once again to English folksong.

Its four movements are played attacca and share a thematic idea introduced by the first viola in its arching pentatonic solo that begins the first section, Prelude. The viola’s rich but haunting sound appealed to the composer (he played the instrument himself) and it plays a prominent role both here in the quintet and in the Second String Quartet. In the Scherzo the music sweeps along in 7/4 time over a bubbling Holstian ostinato, and is marked by a rhythmic freedom associated with English madrigals. A subtle change of textures is apparent in the third section, ‘Alla Sarabanda’, with the cello absent from the texture and the other instruments muted. The finale, ‘Burlesca’, further reflects the ‘phantasy’ form by being cast in several sections within itself, starting with the reappearance of the cello in a wryly humorous solo whose quirky character is taken up by the other instruments. It develops into a rollicking dance which is interrupted by a return of the Prelude music: the dance starts up again to be stilled only right at the very end as the music finally comes full circle.

from notes by Andrew Burn © 2002

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Details for CDA67313 track 9
Scherzo: Prestissimo
Recording date
4 July 2001
Recording venue
Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Mark Brown
Recording engineer
Julian Millard
Hyperion usage
  1. Vaughan Williams: Chamber Music (CDA67313)
    Disc 1 Track 9
    Release date: May 2002
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