Vaughan Williams - James Gilchrist -

A E Houseman's collection of 63 poems entitled A Shropshire Lad date from 1896, but their nostalgic picture of the English countryside and focus on human mortality assumed a deep significance in the wake of the first World War and brought them to considerable prominence and the attention of a number of composers.

A century on, the prospect of a rural landscape as yet undisturbed by motor vehicles or aircraft, where church bells would mark the passing hours and seasons, and where bird song and the jingle of a horses harness would fill the ear, seems even more remote, but it is a sound portrait of this world that James Gilchrist successfully recreates with yearning heart in this beautifully produced CD.

His reading of Vaughan Williams and Gurney is correctly a mournful one, emphasising a sorrow for transience of life that is at the heart of both words and the music.  Nothing is hurried, every word and every note of the accompaniment carries its full weight.

The woodwind opening to Warlock's The Curlew is particularly evocative, carrying the cry of the bird on the breeze, and the complexity of Yeats' poetry gives added colour to the vocal line. The balance here is perfect, and it is hard to imagine a more satisfying performance.

Bliss's Elegiac Sonnet is the "odd man out" in this anthology, commemorating the untimely death of pianist Noel Mewton -Wood in 1953, but it's mood matches perfectly, and it is a real pleasure to hear Anna Tilbrook's piano accompaniment to the words "those pure cascades and diamond plumes now sleep within their source".
Gilchrist is in fine voice throughout, as always responding intelligently and musically to his subject, with absolute deference to the clarity and meaning of each word. The Fitzwilliam String Quartet contribute supportively, and the recording engineers have done a fine job in ensuring equilibrium throughout.
31 July 2007