James Gilchrist - On Wenlock Edge - The Scotsman
Ralph Vaughan Williams's On Wenlock Edge set something of a minor trend among English composers after a passage of discovery in France - principally through the influence of Ravel - led him to explore the broader use of instruments in accompanying the solo song. These settings of AE Housman for tenor, piano and string quartet are exquisite, Vaughan Williams's lilting modalism warmed by the luscious instrumentation that feeds them. Add to that the clean, manicured tenor voice of James Gilchrist, and you have here a deliciously fresh account of a well-worn work.
But the real fascination of this release, featuring the Fitzwilliam String Quartet and other vintage soloists, lies in the accompanying tracks which explore intriguing offshoots of Vaughan Williams's influence: Peter Warlock's beautifully eccentric setting of Yeats, The Curlew, characterised by the heady scent of the cor anglais; Arthur Bliss's soulful Elegiac Sonnet, written as a personal memorial to the suicidal pianist Noel Mewton-Wood; and the first recorded version of Ivor Gurney's Ludlow and Teme, written directly after the composer heard the Vaughan Williams, and for the same instrumentation.
Gilchrist's sympathy for the texts is consistent throughout, and clarity is paramount. The production quality is excellent, too.