★★★★ (out of five)
At the turn of the 20th century, the world was wide open to a young man of means. Ships were getting faster, trains more frequent and motor cars were appearing on the roads. Faced with these exciting possibilities, the English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams decided to stay home, collecting the remains of a musical civilization that was being trampled by the march of technology. He recorded people singing in pubs and fields. Then he wrote Songs of Travel.
The set, dated 1901 to 1904, is at once generically English and altogether original. ‘Let Beauty Awake’ is probably the best-known song but the entire 24-minute sequence for tenor and piano is outstanding for its serenity and Arcadian self-assurance.
Every British tenor has sung the set down the past century. James Gilchrist’s interpretation is notable for its lack of sentimentality, recapturing the individuality of a young man’s struggle from external agendas of national identity, as pressing now as they were a century ago. Anna Tilbrooke (piano) plays along with intuitive sympathy. Philip Dukes joins them for a set of folk songs with viola and piano accompaniment. Perfect fare for the last days of the year.
Ralph Vaughan Williams: Songs of Travel (Chandos) is available Jan 5, 2018, at amazon.ca and iTunes.
Ludwig van Toronto
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