Vaughan Williams - James Gilchrist - BBC Music Magazine

The jagged string and piano forte at the start of On Wenlock Edge is a surprise - and a welcome one. After all, this is supposed to be a storm, shaking trees and bending them double. James Gilchrist's elegant, shapely phrasing soars through it all like a bird. There are other fine moments too: the hushed central section of ‘Bredon Hill', or the sense of rising grief in the closing solo of The Curlew. But against these have to be set those passages which just miss the mark. The climax of ‘Bredon Hill' feels reined in, not an outpouring of anger or grief, while solo strings in the opening of The Curlew are disconcertingly brusque.

Gilchrist has his moments of magic, as in the rapt, sensuous opening of Gurney's ‘Far in a western brookland'. But overall, a little more variety would be welcome, both expressively and tonally - there's a wide range of emotions and image in these songs. Gilchrist does quiet absorption very well: his phrases are often beautifully shaped, but humour and irony in a song like ‘Oh, when I was in love with you' from On Wenlock Edge bring out rather less in him. It's good to see Philip Langridge - Britten Quartet's On Wenlock Edge restored to the catalogue - a clear recommendation there, while the not quite so roundly accomplished Adrian Thompson still carries The Curlew where Gilchrist tends to dip in and out. The Linn recordings are bright and clear, if a little cold.

01 August 2007