Arcadia Lost is the name of this collection of works written before World War II by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten. Most of the pieces recall a time when life was lived at a slower, more natural pace, a time that no longer exists in either the British Isles or in Australia, where the recording was made. Vaughan Williams loved the English countryside and collected folksongs in his spare time. Between 1906 and 1909 he set six poems from A. E. Housman’s A Shropshire Lad to music and called the resulting song cycle On Wenlock Edge. During the same period he studied with Maurice Ravel and added some Impressionist touches to his distinctively English style. He called this his “French polish.” In 1909, he scored this gorgeous but unfortunately little-known song cycle for tenor, string quartet, and piano. Later he reworked it for orchestra, but it is the leaner version that is heard here in an opulently colored rendition by the robust Steve Davislim, the Hamer Quartet, and pianist Benjamin Martin. Recently, we have begun to hear more English-language art songs from great artists like Anthony Dean Griffey and Christine Brewer. Davislim may well be another young singer who can follow in their footsteps.. Davislim, Martin, and the Hamer Quartet bring us the intrinsic beauty and nostalgia of these unique English songs.
The Lark Ascending is a well-known piece and there are numerous recordings of it….Here, the violin of Michael Dauth, concertmaster of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, soars with the skylark and brings to mind the skies of yesteryear. Flos Campi was written shortly after World War I and embodies some of Vaughan Williams’s reactions to it. Viola soloist Roger Benedict plays with flawless intonation and the dark velvet tone that distinguishes his instrument.
Benjamin Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem was commissioned in 1939 by the Japanese government to mark 2,600 years of the Japanese Empire. Because the movements of Britten’s sinfonia were marked “Lacrymosa,” “Dies Irae,” and “Requiem Aeternam,” the piece was rejected as insulting. As with all of these works except the song cycle, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra is most ably conducted by Mark Wigglesworth. It’s interesting to note that music lovers in the United States often know only what is going on in our country and in Europe. Since the music world is much bigger than that, we also need to look at far off places like Australia for the best in classical music.