Ralph Vaughan Williams – Orchestral works
Fantasia on Greensleves, The Lark Ascending, Tallis Fantasia
Marriner, Wordsworth, Boult
Originally, this double disc set dedicated to Vaughan Williams’s Orchestral Works was not intended as a single album. It collects the recordings of three different (and great) conductors with three different orchestras, made between the middle 1950s and the early 1990s. And yet, the level of the performances is so good and the selected works are such fine samples of Vaughan Williams’s production that their association seems nothing but obvious.
The album alternate well-known works to less popular ones. In fact, compositions as The Lark Ascending, Fantasia on Greensleves and the Tallis Fantasia could not be missed, but there are also less predictable choices as – among the others – the Oboe Concerto, the Concerto Grosso and the Partita for Double String Orchestra. All these works testify Vaughan Williams’s lifelong enthusiasm and keen interest in folk tunes of his native England. Even the ones that are not directly influenced by the local folklore (as the neglected Oboe concerto) reveal a certain inclination towards it in their style. The most part, however, does not conceal their source of inspiration, present even in their titles (Tallis Fantasia, Norfolk Rhapsody, English Folk Song Suite).
Neville Marriner & the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields
The first of the two discs features the recordings made by Neville Marriner and the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields, which are perhaps the most famous recordings of Vaughan Williams’s music together with Hodie conducted by Barry Rose.
The six works they perform are exquisite and give prominence to the lyricism of this music. The Fantasia on Greensleeves (arranged by Ralph Greaves) is a charming little piece that opens the collection with the right atmosphere. The soft sound of the strings is particularly noteworthy. While the English Folk Song Suite alternate exuberance and quietness, the Oboe Concerto is the great surprise of this recording. This work is so rich of atmospheric passages – which the orchestra characterize so well – and the sound of Celia Nicklin’s oboe is sweet and smooth.
The Lark Ascending is the most important – and the most popular – work of the first disc. It is performed in the best possible way by the inspired orchestra and by graceful and stylish violinist Iona Brown.
Adrian Boult & Barry Wordsworth
The recording of the Partita for double string orchestra by Adrian Boult and the London Philharmonic Orchestra equals Marriner’s performances, but with a significant difference. While in those recordings we are never far from what is an idyllic countryside, in the Partita there are many contrasting feelings. The two groups of opposed strings are effective in conveying them under Boult’s baton.
The rest of the disc is the reign of the New Queen’s Hall Orchestra and Barry Wordsworth. The four works they perform are closer in their mood to those of the first disc and seem ideally to surround the Partita. Again, we find here relaxed and charming representations in the delightful Five Variants and especially in the charming, light Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.
This is the perfect recording for those who listen to Vaughan Williams’s music for the first time, but also for aficionados who look for a compact and exhaustive portrait of their composer.