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ON WENLOCK EDGE

EMI Classics CDM 5 65589 2: Ian Partridge, Music Group of London, Jennifer Craxton, Jennifer Partridge. The Water Mill, The New Ghost, Ten Blake Songs, Merciless Beauty and Four Hymns, all by Vaughan Williams, are also included.
"THE EMI MID-PRICE CD IS AN OUTSTANDINGLY BEAUTIFUL RECORD WITH IAN PARTRIDGE'S INTENSE ARTISTRY AND LOVELY INDIVIDUAL TONE-COLOUR USED WITH COMPELLING SUCCESS IN VAUGHAN WILLIAMS SONGS BOTH EARLY AND LATE.THE TEN BLAKE SONGS COME FROM JUST BEFORE THE COMPOSER'S DEATH, BALD, DIRECT SETTINGS THAT WITH THE ARTISTRY OF PARTRIDGE AND CRAXTON ARE DARKLY MOVING."
(Penguin Guide to Compact Discs)

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"On Wenlock Edge", by Ralph Vaughan Williams, was begun in 1906 and completed in 1909. The poems are from Housman's "A Shropshire Lad", which was published a hundred years ago in 1896. These poems seemed to strike a chord with British readers. Vaughan Williams took 6 of the poems and moulded them into one of the finest English song cycles.

The first song, "On Wenlock Edge", compares the unchanging qualities of the Roman from centuries ago to the present day, when the "thoughts that hurt him" can still apply. The second song, "From far from eve and morning", is very moving in its depiction of man's short span on earth. The third song, "Is my team ploughing?", caused a rift between Vaughan-Williams and Housman because the verse about football was omitted - very wisely in my view. This song is a dialogue between the ghost asking the living man if things are still the same as when he was alive. "Is my girl happy?", he asks. "Yes lad, I cheer a dead man's sweetheart, never ask me whose."

"O when I was in love with you" is a perfect antidote to the dramas of the previous song. Love is fine while it lasts but, when it's over, the young man says "I'm quite myself again". Bredon Hill is perhaps the most beautiful song in the cycle. Two lovers lie together on Bredon on a shimmering summer day. The bells are sounding out, but all is not as it appears. The girl dies and the bells now call out again, this time sounding disturbingly violent, and the young man asks them to be still. The lovely hazy shimmering of the opening returns and, unaccompanied, the song finishes: "I will come".

Finally, "Clun". This was in fact the first song to be composed. The tension is relaxed after "Bredon Hill", and the poem compares the stillness of the countryside with the troubles of urban life. It finishes "'Tis a long way further than Knighton, A quieter place than Clun, Where Doomsday may thunder and lighten and little 'twill matter to one". The cycle ends in complete tranquility.