April 2006

Vaughan Williams - Toward the Unknown Region; Willow-Wood; The Voice out of the Whirlwind; Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus; The Sons of Light
Roderick Williams, baritone; Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Chorus and Orchestra; David Lloyd-Jones, conductor
Naxos 8.557798
Format: CD
Released: 2005

by Rad Bennett

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****

This CD is a valuable addition to the Vaughan Williams lexicon. It presents one world premiere, Willow-Wood, and offers modern recordings of The Voice Out of the Whirlwind and The Sons of Light, not recorded since the vinyl era. The disc opens with a work a bit more familiar -- Toward the Unknown Region, a song for chorus and orchestra to a text by Walt Whitman. It was a companion piece to A Sea Symphony and was first performed in 1907. This is the finest of all its recordings, thanks to superb and supple singing by the large chorus and expert pacing and inflection from maestro David Lloyd-Jones.

Willow-Wood is a cantata based on texts from Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s House of Life. It is scored for baritone soloist, women’s chorus, and orchestra and is in the composer’s best mystical style. The Voice Out of the Whirlwind is based on the Bible’s Book of Job, so it no surprise to find that it was written at the same time as Job, the composer’s masque with dancing. In fact, the main theme of this brief motet for chorus and orchestra is one of those jolly English tunes lifted straight from the larger composition. The Sons of Light is a cantata for chorus and orchestra dealing with the Zodiac and Creation and reminds one of the composer’s gigantic A Pilgrim’s Progress. The performances of all these pieces are idiomatic, astute, and compelling.

The recorded sound is quite good, being rich, full, and spacious. The very highest sounds, cymbal clashes and upper woodwind seem just a mite dull, but the bass is solid without being overbearing. Overall, a lovely collection of pieces that are seldom heard yet sound somewhat familiar due to being composed in tandem with more famous compositions.