In 2012, Dutton Epoch released the World Premiere Recordings of several ‘early and late’ works by Ralph Vaughan Williams (CDLX 7289). These included the Serenade in A minor (1898), the Dark Pastoral for cello and orchestra (1942-43, orchestrated 2009), the Bucolic Suite (1900/01) and the present Folk Songs of the Four Seasons: Suite (1949/52). The Royal Scottish National Orchestra is conducted by Martin Yates.
In 1952 Roy Douglas arranged several numbers from Vaughan Williams’s Folk Songs of the Four Seasons for orchestra alone. There are five movements:
‘To the Ploughboy’ and ‘May Song’.
‘The Green Meadow’ and ‘An Acre of Land’.
‘The Spig of Thyme’ and ‘The Lark in the Morning’.
‘Wassail Song’ and ‘Children’s Christmas Song’.
Roy Douglas has given a detailed description of the work’s genesis and progress. In 1948 ghe had completed his work as RVWs amanuensis for the Symphony No.6 in E minor and was currently working on revising and correcting the full score of William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast. Then, RVW asked him to ‘vet’ and make a fair copy of the complete Folk Songs of the Four Seasons. This editing clearly sparked an interest in the work. In 1952, after working on the score of the Sinfonia Antartica, Douglas ‘busied himself with a reduced scoring of the Folk Songs of the Four Seasons. A couple of years later, he revisited the score and ‘was charmed afresh by many of the settings of the folk-songs, and…conceived the idea of making an orchestral suite from some of the most attractive and suitable movements.’ After gaining approval from composer and publisher he began work.
Roy Douglas concluded his remarks by pointing out that the ‘Suite was published and is occasionally performed though not as often as I could wish, for V.W. had, with characteristic generosity, insisted that I should receive the lion’s share of the royalties.’
There has been little attempt at following the order of the carols as presented in the full score, although, the swing of the seasons does begin with the opening number, ‘To the Ploughboy’ and closes with the joy of Christmas. The songs are presented as written by RVW without any further musical development.
Martin Murray (Ralph Vaughan Williams Society Journal, October 2012) wrote that ‘this is a charming compilation of material from the choral version and is a worthwhile discovery in its own right.’ Murray concludes by noting that the scoring is light and airy’ and that the entire suite ‘is thirteen minutes of pure enjoyment.’
In January 2013, Andrew Achenbach reviewed the CD in The Gramophone. After commenting the other works on this CD he writes: This merely leaves the colourful and breezy five-movement suite that Roy Douglas compiled from the Folk Songs of the Four Seasons.’ Achenbach considered that Martin Yates ‘presided over enthusiastic, spick-and-span performances.’
I find that the Folk Songs of the Four Seasons is an almost perfect summing up of Vaughan Williams’s work with folk-song. In its orchestra-only guise, the listener is free to concentrate on the melodies rather than worry about the texts. Roy Douglas’ scoring is magical and reveals fresh delights in these well-chosen selections from the complete score.