Vaughan Williams: Job/Songs of Travel


Taking into account this partnership’s epic Wagner project, and not to mention the series of recordings of Shostakovich, Sibelius and Debussy, never mind Mark Elder’s deep knowledge of and affinity with the music of Edward Elgar, a convincing argument can be made that it is with their albums exploring the canon of Ralph Vaughan Williams that the Halle orchestra’s own label has supplied its most essential releases, beginning with The Wasps in its earliest years.

This coupling of some of his best known songs with a rarely-heard dance work continues that exploration in equally compelling fashion. Baritone Neal Davies is ideally suited to the orchestral versions of the songs, only three of them arranged by the composer and the rest made shortly after his death in informed and meticulously-matching style by his long-time associate Roy Douglas.

Revered in Scotland as much for the poetry of Robert Louis Stevenson, which is beautifully served by the music, it is rare to hear the complete cycle of The Songs of Travel, especially in this version. If the opening The Vagabond and the seventh song, Whither Must I Wander?, which Vaughan Williams wrote first, leap out, some of the less familiar ones – Let Beauty Awake, In Dreams – are revealed as gentler gems.

If I have ever had an opportunity to see the “masque for dancing” that is Vaughan Williams’s response to William Blake’s illustrations of the OId Testament Book Of Job, it has slipped my mind. However well Ninette de Valois’s choreography for that collaboration has stood the test of time, the music – a 45 minute suite in 11 “Scenes” – is surely worthy of a hearing on the concert platform. If the full work has nonetheless failed to carve out a place in the repertoire, it is very possible that conductors will make their own selections from it when copyright expires in 2028. The central Dances (Plague, Pestilence, Famine and Battle, the Three Messengers, and Job’s Comforters) of Scenes 4, 5 & 6 would certainly stand alone, the latter including some plangent saxophone and culminating in some all-stops-out organ (played by Darius Battiwalla here).
Keith Bruce