Hugh the Drover

A Centenary Celebration

Hugh the Drover, Vaughan Williams’s first full-length opera, was completed before the First World War, but not performed until 1924. A premiere at the Royal College of Music on 4 July 1924 was followed on 14 July by the first professional production at His Majesty’s Theatre in London. This was the beginning of the first of several nationwide tours by the British National Opera Company (BNOC), and the opera quickly became popular.

The conductor for the British National Opera Company (BNOC) was Malcolm Sargent, then only 29 years old, and this was his first opera. The lead singers, Tudor Davies and Mary Lewis, played Hugh and Mary, while the supporting cast included Constance Willis, Frederick Collier and Peter Dawson.

In September and October 1924, Sargent and the BNOC cast and orchestra found themselves in the recording studio, setting down roughly half the opera on ten 78 rpm sides, running to forty-three and a half minutes altogether. This remained the only recording of the work until more complete recordings appeared in 1978 and 1994. Despite the limitations of the acoustic recording process, it is arguable that these early recordings have more than stood the test of time. The passion captured in 1924 has never been bettered.

Of course, a recording of this importance has been remastered before – just once, by Pearl, in 1975, when it was just over half a century old. Techniques have developed since then, and Pete Reynolds has made a fresh master for Albion Records, direct from 78 rpm discs, resulting in a cleaner sound.

Vaughan William Society Vice-President Stephen Connock MBE, assembled the album, but recreating the libretto become a collaborative effort, since it was difficult to pin every word down following revisions in 1933 and 1956. It was at a late stage that the British Library, which had made a partial recovery from a cyber-attack, was able to retrieve early manuscripts and scores to enable us to clear the final question marks.

Tudor Davies and Mary Lewis

Tudor Davies and Mary Lewis


Malcolm Sargent 1941


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