The First Songs of Travel. © 2023 Albion Records

CD Spotlight

Quintessentially British

GERALD FENECH is impressed by the first recording of Vaughan Williams' 'Songs of Travel' in a 1954 recital which also includes songs by Davidson, Head, Ireland, Keel, Stanford and Warlock

'... as historically important as it is musically ...'


Rather underrated, Songs of Travel will always remain one of the most enigmatic compositions by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). But what is this song-cycle all about? Songs of Travel is a work comprising nine songs originally written for baritone voice after poems drawn from Robert Louis Stevenson's collection Songs of Travel and other Verses. They were originally composed between 1901 and 1904, and they represent the composer's first major foray into song-writing.

The cycle offers a quintessentially British take on the 'Wayfarer' cycle. The protagonist is a world-weary yet resolute individual who shows neither the naivety of Franz Schubert's miller in Die schöne Müllerin nor the destructive impulses of Schubert's Winterreise or Gustav Mahler's Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen.

Listen — Vaughan Williams: The Vagabond (Songs of Travel)
(ALBCD055 track 1, 0:02-0:46) ℗ 2023 Albion Records :

Eight of the songs were first performed in London in 1904. Although they were performed as a complete cycle, the publishers refused to accept the songs as a whole group. Consequently, the songs were published in two books separated by two years. Neither volume included 'Wither must I wander'.

Listen — Vaughan Williams: Wither must I wander (Songs of Travel)
(ALBCD055 track 8, 0:01-0:59) ℗ 2023 Albion Records :

The ninth song, 'I have trod the Upward and the Downward Slope', was published after the composer's death in 1958, when his wife Ursula found it among his papers.

This pioneering 1954 Westminster LP recital by Richard Standen accompanied by Frederick Stone has been remastered for this issue by Ronald Grames, who did a wonderful job in producing excellent sound quality despite the age of the original.

Listen — Charles Villiers Stanford: The Old Superb (Songs of the Sea)
(ALBCD055 track 18, 0:01-0:59) ℗ 2023 Albion Records :

This was the first recording of the entire Songs of Travel and includes the premiere recordings of five of the songs. The ninth song, as already earmarked above, was not found by the composer's wife until after his death some four years after this recording was made.

Standen's performances of these eight songs came in for high praise from Vaughan Williams himself, proof of the consummate artistry of this bass-baritone who lived from 1912 to 1987.

Indeed, he appeared on many recitals and concert-broadcasts for the BBC and soloed in the Bach Passions under the baton also of Vaughan Williams, who had a genuine predilection for this singer. He was a popular soloist in choral festivals throughout Great Britain and the Continent during twenty-five years of active performing, as well as a much sought song recitalist for a considerable period of his stellar career.

The Canadian pianist Frederick Stone (1935-1986) is only known today as Kathleen Ferrier's accompanist on a frequently re-issued disc, but he had a remarkable thirty-year career as a staff accompanist for the BBC and appeared in hundreds of broadcasts with many of the great and near great performers of his time.

Listen — Malcolm Davidson: A Christmas Carol
(ALBCD055 track 21, 0:01-0:58) ℗ 2023 Albion Records :

This release pays homage to these two wonderful artists who, sadly, are now almost forgotten, but who deserve much more recognition than they have garnered so far. This re-issue on CD is as historically important as it is musically and should be most welcome by Vaughan Williams buffs in particular.

Listen — Vaughan Williams: Linden Lea
(ALBCD055 track 11, 1:39-2:29) ℗ 2023 Albion Records :

Otherwise normal music lovers can only embellish their collecting by adding this bit of history making to their library. Be assured, there will be no regrets.

Copyright © 28 July 2023 Gerald Fenech,
Gzira, Malta



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