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Cat. No. CHAN 9625(2) Price: 21 No. of discs: 2
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CHAN 9625 - Vaughan Williams: The Pilgrim's Progress
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Vaughan Williams: The Pilgrim's Progress

This premiere digital studio recording of Vaughan Williams’s powerful and moving epic, The Pilgrim’s Progress, was made following a highly successful performance at the Barbican Hall, London. The excitement which marked that occasion is reflected in this new (studio) recording.

Vaughan Williams always held the view that John Bunyan’s allegory would provide a wonderful basis for an opera, and he worked on it for over forty years. Acts I and II were written between 1925 and 1936, after which there was a pause for a number of years until 1944 when work on the project was resumed. ’The Shepherds of the Delectable Mountains’ scene, originally written in 1921, was incorporated into Act IV in 1951-2, which completed the core in its final version. It was premiered at Covent Garden in 1951.

In the prologue, Bunyan is seen in Bedford gaol writing the last words of his book, which leads into Act I, where the Pilgrim is seen with a burden on his back. The Pilgrim is subjected to a number of experiences and temptations, from the seductive pleaseure in the ’Vanity Fair’ scene, to the desolation of the ’Valley of Humiliation’. Finally, he is triumphant, and passes through the River of Death and ascends the gates of the Celestial City. In the epilogue, we return to the opening scene, and Bunyan offers his book to the audience.

As recent performances have shown, The Pilgrim’s Progress can be a moving and impressive theatrical experience. The contrast between the howling of the Doleful Creatures and the bustle of Vanity Fair is contrasted with the powerfully haunting music of the Pilgrim, particularly as he reaches the Celestial City. The composer said of his opera just after its premiere at Covent Garden in 1951, ’It’s not like the operas they are used to, but it’s the sort of opera I wanted to write, and there it is."

Reviews

" ... very strongly recommended."
Martin Anderson - Fanfare - January/February 1999

                 Performance *****      Recording ****
"...A perfectly paced account from Richard Hickox, with superb orchestral contribution and sensational sound quality."
Yorkshire Post - July 1998

"... Vaughan Williams’s scoring demands much of the orchestra’s principal players, and the quality of the Royal Opera’s line-up - horn, trumpet and clarinet especially - is near celestial."
Classic FM Magazine - August 1998

"...it is among the most absorbing discs I’ve ever been sent for review ... Gerald Finley gives the performance of several lifetimes in the title role ... this is life-enhancing music..."
Michael White - Independent on Sunday - 24 May 1998

"... this Chandos set is an all-round winner ..."
Michael Kennedy - The Sunday Telegraph - 17 May 1998

"... The orchestra and chorus respond ardently to Richard Hickox’s enlightened direction. Worth every penny."
Fiona Maddocks - The Observer - 3 May 1998

"... A revelation."
Hugh Canning - The Sunday Times - 10 May 1998

                   Performance ****     Sound *****
"... a fine performance..."
Michael Scott Rohan - Classic CD - July 1998

                      Performance *****      Sound *****
"...Hickox’s skills in drawing together the various threads of large-scale vocal works are well-known, and here he finds the right balance between the work’s operatic form and its oratorio tendencies: the drama may sometimes be statice but the music never is. .. with Gerald Finley an exemplary, earnest Pilgrim; he is joined by a vast company of telling cameos from the likes of Mark Padmore, Rebecca Evans and Pamela Helen Stephen."
Matthew Rye - BBC Music Magazine - July 1998

              ’Classical CD of the Week’
"... Hickox’s performance is a convincing affirmation of the score’s power, and certainly outdoes the onlu other complete recording in the catalogue conducted by Adrian Boult, for intensity and spiritual depth..." *****
The Guardian - 1 May 1998

The Royal Opera House Chorus and Orchestras are conducted by Richard Hickox in a thrilling 1998 recording with a cast that has Peter Coleman-Wright as John Bunyan and Gerald Finley as The Pilgrim.
Essex Chronicle

 

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