I know nothing about Japanese landscape beyond what its delicate watercolours have instructed me; so I have no idea of the pleasures or pitfalls involved in going 'along the field', or what sort of tree might take the place of Housman's aspen. Here in Egypt one would tumble into a minor canal the moment one raised one's eyes from the ground, and any observant palm would be suitably amused. So not all poetry travels equally well. Japan, though, has the chameleon's ability to absorb other cultures with enviable ease, not only profiting by them, but often revealing in them essential depths that might have been forgotten in their country of origin.
So this very English music is entirely safe with these artists. If an occasional vowel sound is distinctively east of Suez, the rapturous intertwining of Hirohisa Tsuji's sensitive tenor voice and the exploratory violin of Nobuko Kaiwa produce in the folk-songs and Housman selection an entirely idiomatic performance. Both folk-songs manage to be playful enough, ending in happy marriages. Searching for Lambs plans the wedding after an early morning wander over hills and dales.
Listen -- Vaughan Williams: Searching for Lambs
(track 1, 0:00-0:50) © 2008 Alm Records
In Housman it is difficult to avoid heartbreak. The uncompromising professor of Latin, formidable scholar who would never suffer a fool gladly, and seemed to take merciless delight in demolishing any lesser intellect, wrote poetry of a lonesome tenderness that can moisten the eye as readily as anyone's. His star-crossed lads and lasses must all, it seems, like Shakespeare's chimney-sweepers, come to dust. Vaughan Williams hailed from the west country which Housman celebrated so persistently, and not only in A Shropshire Lad. 'The half-moon westers low' has the lovers cold beneath the earth in distant lands divided by the sea.
Listen -- Vaughan Williams: The Half-Moon Westers Low (Along the Field)
(track 14, 0:00-0:30) © 2008 Alm Records
The team is aware of the re-ordering of the Stevenson cycle that took place in 1960, not long after Vaughan Williams's death. So Akane Nakanishi has her final postlude, providentially discovered among the composer's papers and here a beautiful summing-up to the eleven poems. Stevenson's traveller is mostly of merrier mood than anyone imagined by Housman, so that beauty can dominate a day from dawn to dusk.
Listen -- Vaughan Williams: Let Beauty Awake (Songs of Travel)
(track 4, 0:00-0:33) © 2008 Alm Records
The penultimate Rossetti sonnet returns to Housman's dark mood, though ordered initially in deceptive heraldic splendour.
Listen -- Vaughan Williams: Death in Love (The House of Life)
Copyright © 1 January 2009
Robert Anderson, Cairo, Egypt
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CD INFORMATION: VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: ALONG THE FIELD
(track 24, 0:00-1:35) © 2008 Alm Records
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