Australian Eloquence continues its enterprising and imaginative
series of reissues from the Universal vaults with this well-filled
2CD compilation of popular Vaughan Williams. Along with some
very familiar works there’s a few more unusual items thrown
in for good measure.
Much of the first disc was recorded in Abbey Road Studios
in 1993 and contains some fine performances. The Wasps
Overture opens the collection in ebullient style and Marriner
relaxes for the entrance of the big tune. The cool beauty of
the Tallis Fantasia comes next as a welcome foil, with
the contrasting textures and moods of the music well delineated.
In the Fen Country, Norfolk Rhapsody No.1 and
Five Variants on Dives and Lazarus are all similarly
well performed, if perhaps without some of the character that
other conductors have brought to the music. The sense of timelessness
in Fen Country and the Norfolk Rhapsody that Boult
created in his 1968 New Philharmonia recordings, with the music
emerging as from an East Anglian mist, is not equalled here.
Marriner is rather more prosaic but this may in part be due
to the clarity of the recordings.
Less familiar fare are the 1957 brass band Variations
in their orchestral garb. The music and Gordon Jacob’s orchestration
immediately reminds one of the work’s near contemporary, the
Eighth Symphony, although the actual musical material seems
wider ranging within its 12 minute framework while at the same
time being wholly characteristic of its composer.
The first CD closes
with Tommy Reilly’s genial 1976 recording of the brief harmonica
With CD 2 we go back in time to 1972 and the late Iona
Brown’s justly famous performance of The Lark Ascending.
The analogue Kingsway Hall sound here is particularly atmospheric.
The disc continues with the Fantasia on Greensleeves,
the 1950 Concerto Grosso and the English Folk Song
Suite. All are performed with panache and commitment. The
closing arrangements by Chris Hazell and Leslie Pearson of folksongs
collected by Vaughan Williams are entertaining in a rather soupy
kind of a way. Some are more in tune stylistically than others
but I wonder what RVW would have made of them.
Overall, then, a good
bargain collection of some of this composer’s best loved works,
even though individual performances are in almost all cases bettered
elsewhere. The collection also provides a useful overview of Marriner’s
work with the ASMF over a twenty year period.