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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis
Five Variants of ‘Dives and Lazarus’
Job - A Masque for Dancing

London Philharmonic Orchestra/Vernon Handley
Recorded in the Fairfield Halls, Croydon on 3 and 4 December 1973 (Tallis)
and at St Augustine’s Church, Kilburn on 24 and 25 June 1985 and 14 and 15 December 1983
EMI CLASSICS FOR PLEASURE 7243 5 75314 2 9 [76’52"]

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Another in the series of reissues of discs recorded by Vernon Handley, a conductor whose career has only really emerged from the shadows since the death in 1983 of his mentor Adrian Boult. He is much associated with British music, in particular Elgar and, in this case, Vaughan Williams. The familiar Tallis Fantasia gets a remarkable performance, full of ethereal, timelessness which even Croydon’s Fairfield Halls acoustics can re-create. So often it is a cathedral space which seems the essential and ideal setting for this evocative music (indeed it was the building in Gloucester which inspired the 37 year-old composer to write it for the Three Choirs Festival of 1910). A similar melody from the past (a 16th century folktune) provides the main musical material for the Five Variants (1938) for strings and harp, and it makes an ideal follow-on from the Tallis Fantasia in this marvellously paced account by Handley, achieving a richly textured climax in the third variation.

In 1927 the centenary of William Blake’s death was celebrated with a ballet based on twenty-one engravings from his visionary Illustrations of the Book of Job, condensing them down to eight scenes thanks to the Blake scholar Geoffrey Keynes and the artist Gwen Raverat, Vaughan Williams’ cousin. He was naturally approached to write the music and eagerly took on the commission. Rather than following classical ballet he favoured the 17th century term ‘masque’, wrote the work ahead of the first production (1931) and conducted it himself a year earlier at the Norwich Festival. It is packed full of a variety of styles, such as folksong, hymn tunes, and Elizabethan and Jacobean dance forms, all of which find VW in his element. It was dedicated to Boult, and his pupil Handley has recorded it just the once, so this reissue is most welcome for the playing is fine, the interpretation compelling.

Christopher Fifield

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