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Piotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840 - 1893)   Serenade for Strings. Op. 48. 28.05
Antonin DVORAK (1841 - 1904) Serenade for Strings in E Major. Op. 22. 25.28
Edward ELGAR (1857 - 1934) Introduction & Allego for strings. Op. 47. 12.53 Serenade for string orchestra. Op.20. 11.43
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872 - 1958) The Lark Ascending. 15.05 Fantasia on 'Greensleeves'. 4.11 Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. 15.28
Josef SUK (1874 - 1935) Serenade for String Orchestra. Op. 8. 26.20
London Chamber Orchestra Christopher Warren-Green.
Recorded All Saints Church, Petersham. June 1988 & Dec 1989. Virgin Classics. 7243 5 61763 2 4 CD1 78.49 CD2 61.14

Recent items which have come my way for reviewing have included several Virgin double CD's ("twofers"). These are retailing at less than £9.00 for the two discs and seem to me to be good value. The latest to hand is String Serenades, with the London Chamber Orchestra playing works which are well known and deservedly so. The recordings are not new - they date from 1988 and were released in 1989. My collection still includes one of the discs released at the time (the English element of the works on this latest release). I rated the disc highly then, and listening afresh in the new package reminds me how much I enjoyed it.

The new discs have less generous notes provided than when issued earlier. Like others in the series the items played are fully detailed with details of the works, playing times, names of the performers and recording dates. This is all useful and essential, but basic information on the works played is minimal with just one page (in English that is - German and French translations are included) to cover all the items on the two discs. As one assumes the packages in the series are aimed primarily at the general buyer rather than the out and out collector, presumably he/she would welcome more guidance.

Everything was recorded at the same venue, All Saints Church, Petersham, and the engineers did a fine job, although this is not a recording for those who like the "centre aisle seat, half way up the hall" approach. They may find the closeness and clarity of individual instruments too much, even though the Church's spacious acoustic has been captured well in ensemble passages and the overall balance is good. If I have a quibble it is with the over romantic approach, taking liberties with tempi, the affectionate over lingering throughout, (for instance, the Waltz passage in the Tchaikovsky would have the dancers among us held up on our toes longer than is good for our dignity). Curiously though, the Waltz in Dvorak's Serenade was played without affectation to the music's gain.

The Serenades from the two (related) Czech composers were given glowing performances. Tempi were free throughout and if one remembers that the L.C.O. is directed from the violin rather than conducted then the control shown becomes even more admirable. Lightness and shading, subtle dynamics, all were present. Probably the least known item of the selection is the early piece by Josef Suk - a charming four movement work featuring some fine writing for the cello in particular throughout.

The English works spread over the two discs will be familiar to most of us. In choosing them the orchestra clearly was prepared to challenge the strong competition in the field, notably the incomparable Barbirolli versions. The magical refinement that he brought to music he loved may never be matched but the discs under discussion can stand comparison with all but the very best. The Introduction and Allegro was rather special. The close recording was here an undoubted gain with the string quartet in Elgar's little masterpiece playing a fuller part then one sometimes hears. Played with passion and bite, the drive and vigour were reminiscent of a live performance. The following E Minor Serenade was given a pleasantly relaxed reading. Christopher Warren-Green was an outstanding soloist in a radiant The Lark Ascending, followed by a rather bland Greensleeves. For the Tallis Fantasia the normal seventeen players were augmented with a second smaller body with magical results. The acoustic, the intensity and quality of the playing, the soaring solo violin (Warren-Green again), and the unity of the group made this a top class reading.

Slight reservations, but these are minor compared to the pleasure the disc gives.


Harry Downey




Harry Downey

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