This CD is a treat for lovers of English music and English folk song in particular. A Cotswold Romance is a concert version by Maurice Jacobson of Vaughan Williams’ robust ballad-opera, Hugh the Drover, written in the era before World War One and later refashioned as a cantata in 1951 using the opera as its prime source. The open-hearted, full fresh air composer is in fine form here; the music is very attractive and performed in great style by the assembled forces. It is led by the late Richard Hickox, whose work in rescuing forgotten English music is his legacy.
This sweet rural fantasy is about a time when a young man could risk all to get the girl he loves and finally, after various tribulations, the happy couple sets off on the road to a new life, under the open sky. In today’s more cynical times, we can only look upon such idealistic foolishness with wry amusement and affection. As operas go (and the composer’s very fine Sir John in Love is similar) it inhabits a very different world to the more heady European styles, opting not for gripping drama but for more serene stories of village life with distinctive English charm.
Around the same time of A Cotswold Romance, the composer was invited to write incidental music for several plays being performed at Stratford. After those successes he scored music for Maeterlinck’s play The Death of Tintagiles, a dark story of a boy’s struggle for survival within a gloomy castle. Mist and stillness surround this castle and the composer uses his full “Norfolk Broads” style to represent it. The play failed and the music was largely forgotten, until now.