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Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis [15.13]
Norfolk Rhapsody No. 1 [11.42]
In the Fen country [15.35]
Fantasia on Greensleeves [4.36]
Concerto Grosso: Intrada [1.57], Burlesca Ostinata [2.36], Sarabande [3.34], Scherzo [1.51], March and Reprise [3.42]
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/James Judd
rec Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, New Zealand, 28-30 June 2001. DSD SACD
NAXOS 6.110053 [60.48]

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A collection of well-known Vaughan Williams orchestral works adds another disc to Naxos’ SACD series.  

Although I found the performance of the first work (Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis) disappointing, the disc as a whole is a good one and excellent value at budget price. The Tallis Fantasia works much better in surround sound than it does in stereo. If you only have stereo, and are after a version of the Fantasia, this is not the one for you! Whilst surround sound creates an impressive effect, the piece in stereo commences with a very homogenous sound at the start, lacking in that vital distinction and definition between the different sets of players. Although this gets better as the work continues, the sound in stereo remains flat and neutral, devoid of the radiant reverberance that needs to emanate from it. The quartet is too prominent in stereo, disproportionately loud, and doesn’t blend in with the string orchestras. Although surround sound corrects the balance a bit, there are still problems. There is not enough delicacy or transparency (most likely a result of the recording venue – the Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington – a far cry from Gloucester Cathedral where the work was premiered), and the piece is too closely miked. There is a strange whooshing sound as the orchestra comes in at one point, and lots of very heavy breathing throughout. As a general rule, the performance doesn’t achieve the spaciousness that the piece calls for, and isn’t shimmery or haunting enough at the start. The climax two-thirds of the way through the piece is too aggressive, and the performance is rather coarse and hard-driven, leading to an ultimately uninspiring recording. 

The rest of the disc, however, cannot be criticised, and contains some first-rate performances, including a most atmospheric rendition of the first Norfolk Rhapsody and a very idiomatic and sensitive performance of In The Fen Country, with a beautiful cor anglais solo. The other two pieces on the disc are the Fantasia on Greensleeves (a capable performance), and a slightly gruff version of the Concerto Grosso, with rather mechanical playing that reflects the way the piece was constructed (for three sets of players of very different musical ability). 

The sound is good in all of the works, the Tallis exceptions noted, and is greatly boosted when listened to in surround. The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra play excellently and conductor James Judd - who has a fairly extensive English repertoire, but is not particularly well known in the UK due to his long-term commitments abroad - brings the pieces off well in a worthwhile disc. Whilst one will find no perspicacious insights in these performances, this disc is a safe choice and delivers sound versions of these classic works. 

Em Marshall

see also Review by Christopher Howell 



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