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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Vaughan Williams' Three Impressions for Orchestra

Agent Triple P is often rude about the repetitive nature of many of the pieces of music played on Classic FM. However, over the weekend we caught the second half of a striking piece we didn't know.  It was obviously late romantic but we couldn't place it.  It turned out to be an early orchestral piece by Ralph Vaughan Williams. This piece, The Solent, was the central movement of Three Impressions for Orchestra which has just been released in a world premiere recording by Paul Daniel and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. Now Triple P has spent a lot of time on or next to the Solent (the piece of water that separates England from the Isle of Wight) so thought that this would be a good piece of music to acquire.

Map of the Isle of Wight and Solent in 1900

It wasn't available to download so we took the unusual step of buying the CD, which was only released last week.  The history of the piece is somewhat convoluted as the three sections weren't conceived as being part of a single work at all.  Vaughan Williams was something of a late developer as a composer so his first popular work, the song Linden Lea, wasn't composed until he was thirty (in 1902). The same year the composer was planning a four movement work called The New Forest of which Burley Heath (included here as the first of the Impressions) was the first.  It was never performed and a few bars had to be reconstructed for this recording.  The CD sleeve notes call it Brahmsian but Triple P thinks it sounds more like Mendelssohn in his Scottish phase.   

Triple P's picture of the Western Solent from the Isle of Wight

The second part of The New Forest was The Solent, the opening of which is more recognisably Vaughan Williams and gives a hint of the string sound which will appear in the Fantasia on a Themes by Thomas Tallis (1910) eight years later.  A quarter of the way through, the music swells from its contemplative beginning to something more late Wagnerian (Vaughan Williams had visited Bayreuth in 1896) in the Tristan und Isolde mould.  The strings in the finale are more like the Tallis piece again and also echoe The Sea Symphony which he started work on the same year as The Solent; 1902.

The final one of the Three Impressions, Harnham Down, wasn't part of the original The New Forest but was the first of two further impressions for orchestra written between 1904 and 1907.  The second part has not survived.  It is even more Wagnerian than The Solent  but in 1908 the composer felt that this "Teutonic" direction was a dead end, which his time studying under Ravel in 1908 put a final end to

The rest of the CD contains some songs (a classical musical form that Agent Triple P doesn't appreciate) and some enjoyable incidental music from a BBC radio production of The Mayor of Casterbridge, from the other end of Vaughan Williams' career, which was composed in 1950.  This too is a world premiere recording.

All in all a worthwhile and enjoyable CD and let's hope it sells well as it helps support the excellent work of The Ralph Vaughan Williams Society.

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