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Track(s) taken from CDA66777

Three Shakespeare Songs

author of text
No 1: The Tempest I:2; No 2: The Tempest IV:1; No 3: A Midsummer Night's Dream II:1

Holst Singers, Stephen Layton (conductor)
Recording details: February 1995
St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Martin Compton
Engineered by Antony Howell
Release date: October 1995
Total duration: 6 minutes 35 seconds

Cover artwork: The Allotment Garden (1899) by Sir George Clausen (1852-1944)
Reproduced by permission of The Fine Art Society, London

Other recordings available for download

Tenebrae, Nigel Short (conductor)
Laudibus, Michael Brewer (conductor)
The Cambridge Singers, John Rutter (conductor)


'This new Vaughan Williams collection complements the Holst Singers' critically acclaimed 1993 CD of Holst partsongs (CDH55171) and is equally impressive … masterly, but also supremely musical … the Shakespeare settings are outstanding … the Holst Singers … sing with a spellbinding sense of atmosphere and crystal-clear textures. Strongly recommended for all admirers of Vaughan Williams and fine choral work' (BBC Music Magazine)

'A most worthwhile enterprise, strongly recommended' (Fanfare, USA)

'Une réussite artistique exemplaire' (Répertoire, France)

'En todo momento, los cantores de Layton demuenstran un dominio total y lenguaje musical de Vaughan Williams … Un hermoso disco' (CD Compact, Spain)
Ralph Vaughan Williams composed these choral essays, somewhat reluctantly, as test pieces for the 1951 National Competition Festival of the British Federation of Music. Since then they have become a firm favourite as they combine a world of impressionism (from his experience with Ravel) with a journey through enharmonic wonders, and tongue-tying tricks of choral enunciation.

Full fathom five is a play on the sound of tolling bells, in multi-divided upper voices while the basses sing an undulating melody beneath. There is a little quirk though. If one takes the first four notes of either ‘O taste and see’ or the hymn tune: ‘For all the saints’ by the same composer, and sings them simultaneously, the result is the cluster-chord on ‘Ding’. The tenors, on ‘Dong’, then provide that clanging dissonance which employs the same interval inherent in bell overtones. A central, contrasting section is classic Vaughan Williams: parallel triads which transform, punning beautifully with the text, into the strangest superimposition of chords on ‘strange’.

The cloud-capp’d towers is a masterful test-piece for choirs to prove their collective tuning skills, but has also become a favourite for its ravishing colour-changes reminiscent of progressions in his 6th Symphony.

Over hill, over dale is in essence a Scherzo, with some similarities to the choral-scherzo (third movement) of his Sea Symphony. The keen listener might recognise the same interval-span on ‘hill’ and ‘dale’ as was used in the tolling-bell-effect in the first song.

from notes by Greg Murray © 2016

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