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."
" ... very strongly recommended." Martin Anderson - Fanfare - January / February 1999
"...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
W. Pfister in FonoForum 10 / 98: "Die Lebendigkeit des
Musizierens, die stimmungssatte Atmosphäre, schlicht
rührend und gleichzeitig magisch-feierlich, wird
beiden Polen, dem oratorischen wie dem opernhaften, auf
unprätentiöse wiewohl ernste Weise gerecht. Die Be-
setzung der drei Hauptpartien darf als besonderes Plus
gewertet werden: Sänger, die mit großen Stimmen den
spätromantischen Duktus dieser Musik beflügeln und ihm
seine (auch textliche) Differenzierungen abzuhören
Disk 1 von 2
The Pilgrim's Progress (Oper in vier Akten) (Gesamtaufnahme)
Prolog: Bunyan in prison
The pilgrim meets Evangelist (1. Akt, 1. Szene)
The house beautiful (2. Szene)
The arming of the pilgrim (2. Akt, 1. Szene))
The pilgrim meets Apollyon (2. Szene)
Disk 2 von 2
Chor: Buy! What will ye buy! (3. Akt, 1. Szene)
I buy the truth!
The pilgrim in prison (2. Szene)
The pilgrim meets Mr By-Ends (4. Akt, 1. Szene)
Who so dwelleth... (2. Szene)
The Lord is my Shepherd
The pilgrim reaches the end of his journey (3. Szene)