Here is a compendium of four British rhapsodies for lost worlds. Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending is a sublime expression of pure joy, as violin soars against orchestra to weave its line of melody against the sky. Michael Dauth and the SSO combine with lyrical delicacy in a work that demands surrender to its idyllic beauty.
More attention is needed for the song cycle On Wenlock Edge, Vaughan Williams’s settings of A E Housman taken from A Shropshire Lad – rural poems of love and grief as soldiers went to die on foreign soil. Tenor Steve Davislim with Benjamin Martin on piano and the Hamer Quartet find quiet beauty in the sadness of these poems, and the fine audio experience provided by the SACD format makes for a profoundly moving experience.
Vaughan Williams’s work for viola, chorus and orchestra Flos Campi is performed perhaps better than it deserves to be. The work always sounds to me like the soundtrack to a portentous 1950s sci-fi movie.
Amid these pieces is a solitary symphonic work by Benjamin Britten, his Sinfonia da Requiem, a supposedly celebratory piece commissioned by the Japanese Government shortly before that country entered into the Second World War. It was rejected as not celebratory enough and too “Christian”. Indeed, it sounds like a requiem for a lost world, anticipating the horrors of the years ahead. The Sydney Symphony under Mark Wigglesworth gives a moving performance of a work that displays the strengths of the then-fledgling composer.