Monday, August 31, 2015

Ralph Vaughan Williams — Riders to the Sea, Magnificat


   Modern era in musical theatre is probably the best time for traditional opera. For about a century historic works are preferred by audience and by artists. Directors of opera and choreographers are searching for forgotten works while forgetting contemporary masterpieces. This phenomenon has been intensified with the decades. Composers found some solutions like festivals and commissioning system giving them chance to hear and see their works, but such successes as those of romantic composers could not happen anymore. And yet, despite such experience, despite problems with production and money, 20th century musical stage occurred to give opulence of great works. One of composers active in opera genre was Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). His six operas were not successful at once but were important at least as a part of author’s stylistic development. It is significant, the most successful opera by Ralph Vaughan Williams, Riders to the Sea duration is 35 minutes only.
   The synopsis of Riders to the Sea is as simple as short. Based on play by John Millington Synge is the story of passing by, mourn and vanishing. Maurya, Irish mother who lost four sons, father and husband in the sea, during the show is losing her last two sons. This story shows some tendency in works of Vaughan Williams who was interested in creating music full of dramatic tension. Written in 1927 opera was revised in 1932 and premiered in 1937. Years between the wars were fruitful in Vaughan Williams’ creative life. In 1932, the year he closed working on Riders to the Sea he composed also Magnificat. He was sixty years old and his personal composing style was in best shape.

Vaughan Williams — Riders to the Sea, Magnificat (1972)

   In sixties and seventies music of Ralph Vaughan Williams was well presented in United Kingdom and USA. Many EMI recordings were published by Angel label for US market. The same happened with Riders to the Sea release by EMI in 1971 and by Angel in 1972 with painting Queen Maeve walked upon this strand by Jack Butler Yeats as cover art. Both compositions presented on EMI 1971 album Riders to the Sea and Magnificat for contralto, woman’s choir and orchestra are works of middle period in Vaughan Williams creative life. This was time of balanced use of most innovative techniques for strong emotional content. Both compositions are musical pictures of mother’s pain and have similar dramatic sense. Elegant distance and clear sincere expression show noble and honest nature of Vaughan Williams’ music.
   Album was recorded in 1971 with Ambrosian Singers and Orchestra Nova of London. Featured contralto Helen Watts recorded both works. In Magnificat she performed solo, in opera she sung role of Maurya. Other parts in Riders to the Sea were sung by Margaret Price (Cathleen), Norma Burrowes (Nora), Benjamin Luxon (Bartley) and others. Both works are presenting perfect, performed with lots of space and culture of sound, these recordings are basic for Vaughan Williams discography. This is substantially the merit of conductor of these recordings Meredith Davies (1922-2005) who was known for his devotion to English modern music, he was renowned especially for his performances of works by Benjamin Britten, Frederic Delius and Ralph Vaughan Williams. He conducted also premiere recording of earlier Vaughan Williams stage works – Sir John in Love, a four-act opera based on Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor. Four stars.

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