Other than Schubert's "Death and the Maiden" and "Trout" quintet, I had practically no chamber music on my shelves before purchasing this album. (Probably I should count the delicious work of Anouar Brahem as chamber music, but I'm not.) I just find it hard to listen to recordings of smaller ensembles and solo intrumental works. Symphonies and tone poems have conditioned me to expect a variety of voices, and chamber music CDs have always sounded sparse to me.
But I'm a big fan of Vaughan Williams, and took a flier on this album (offered through a record club - can I say which one here?).
I don't regret it at all! Rodney Bullock's review describes the pieces well enough, so I'll try to add some impressions of the works here that may help a neophyte decides whether he wants to try this album of VW chamber music.
Six Studies in English Folk Song is a wonderful collection of miniatures. I'm of the opinion that most folk tunes simply need a sympathetic treatment and a wholehearted performance and they shine. To bolster my case I refer the reader to the work of the Baltimore Consort. VW's work here is gorgeous, and gets great playing from the Nash Ensemble.
The Phantasy Quintet is another work of the kind VW does so well: the sunny meadow, meditative and sprightly. Great playing from the Nash Ensemble that makes you want to dance during the Burleasca, and then bask near the end as the work reaches its rapturous conclusion.
The Violin Sonata is an enigmatic work. What is it trying to express? I agree with the liner notes that the Theme and Variations at the end carries the emotional weight, but does it resolve the questions of the first two movements? I don't know, and I don't know if that's OK.
The Second String Quartet is another enigmatic work, and a great one to enjoy if you like both Vaughan Williams' Fifth and Sixth Symphonies (and you should). The weird "Romance" (the second movement) is long, but doesn't dominate the piece. The final movement is benedictory, mostly. It fits with the whole piece.
I have no complaints with the engineering on this CD - all the strings seem full-bodied, and the piano doesn't seem harsh.