Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Vaughan Williams for Piano

When I was about 13, I discovered, and fell in love with, the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958).  I remember telling my piano teacher of this discovery, and her reply, "oh, my, but there's no good piano music!"  Well, as I have discovered since, that wasn't entirely accurate - there is some Vaughan Williams piano music, and it's all good, but it's rather hard to find.  Vaughan Williams preferred to work on a large canvas (and after all, why not? - he was a big man!) and so it's fitting that the piano work that most readily comes to mind in connection with his name is his fine Concerto, a big work in every way, written for Harriet Cohen in 1930, and recast as a concerto for two pianos in 1946.  Here is the first recording of either version, by the artists who gave the two-piano version its American première in 1949:

Vaughan Williams: Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra
Arthur Whittemore and Jack Lowe, duo-pianists
Robin Hood Dell Orchestra of Philadelphia conducted by Vladimir Golschmann
Recorded July 26, 1950
RCA Victor Red Seal set WDM-1597, three red vinyl 45-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 61.44 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 32.19 MB)

This set had no 78-rpm issue, as by the time it appeared, RCA Victor had phased out the 78-rpm format in favor of their own 45-rpm discs.

Also written for Harriet Cohen was this charming Hymn Tune Prelude on a song by Orlando Gibbons:

Vaughan Williams: Hymn Tune Prelude (on Gibbons' Song 13) and
Gibbons: Five Keyboard Pieces
Harriet Cohen, piano
Recorded December 4, 1947
English Columbia DX 1552, one 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC files, 23 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 9.1 MB)

Finally, about three years ago, I presented a Sunday morning worship service at my church, the Unitarian Congregation of Gwinnett in Lawrenceville, Ga., devoted to Vaughan Williams - whose hymn tune arrangements have become basic material in most Protestant hymnals.  In lieu of a sermon, I presented a complete performance of his "Suite of Six Short Pieces" for piano, published in 1920, and later rearranged as his "Charterhouse Suite" for string orchestra.  I have posted this performance on Youtube at the following link:

Vaughan Williams: Suite of Six Short Pieces

6 comments:

  1. Terrific - I have been looking for this recording of the two piano concerto for some time. Also appreciate the opportunity to hear you play some VW!

    Best regards.

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  2. Oh... finally someone remembered these great works!
    Please, please could you post even here the little masterpiece of the piano "Suite"... ?!

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  3. ... I remember a great John McCabe version of this suite (with coupled some wonderful underrated piano pieces of Gustav Holst, and maybe others) in a not to be found recording.

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  4. As a note for non-Philadelphians, the "Robin Hood Dell Orchestra" is the "Philadelphia Orchestra". Before they went to a 52 week season, the orchestra had the summer off. Individual players were contracted separately for concerts in an amphitheater called the "Robin Hood Dell". I heard Ormandy conduct Menuhin there, about 1974.

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  5. A lovely rarity, Bryan. What a great performance! Many thanks for sharing this.

    Paul

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