This disc is one of twenty one releases in ASV's Platinum
celebration series, mid-price reissues of some of the label's highlights,
alongside new recordings. This Vaughan Williams compilation, like many
of the others, couples superlative (if not necessarily definitive) versions
of well known works with less familiar items.
Denis Wick's version of the English Folk Song Suite
has long been a favourite, always confirming to my mind (and ears) that
this piece is almost always best heard in its original wind band incarnation,
rather than the orchestration by Gordon Jacob. It is also available
on an invaluable Quicksilva disc coupled with other, often magnificent
music for this medium by VW and Holst.
The Lark Ascending is, as you will probably
hardly need reminding, probably the quintessential early twentieth
century English pastoral music (Finzi fans may disagree!). The performance
here does not quite match either Iona Brown's own 1970s analogue Decca
version with the same conductor and orchestra or Hugh Bean's mercurial
recording with Boult (EMI), but hardly does injustice to it. Similarly,
the Tallis Fantasia is well done without challenging the likes
of the classic Barbirolli/Sinfonia of London (EMI again) account.
The Six Studies in English Folksong is one of
my favourite VW chamber pieces. Emma Johnson's clarinet version is in
no way inferior to that of Janet Hilton on Chandos but I maintain a
special affection for the Lydia Mordkovitch/Julian Milford violin recording.
However, this is, in any guise, a work that lies close to my heart,
especially Spurn Point, conjuring childhood visits to that remote
and unique feature of the East Coast.
The Three Vocalises, a very late piece, represents
a distillation of the wordless melismas of the Pastoral (3rd)
symphony with the feeling of Gaelic blessings. A very beautiful, if
brief, musical farewell, written in the composer's final year. In Vaughan
Williams, short does not always equate with slight, something demonstrated
quite indisputably here.
Ross Pople and his London Festival Orchestra have made
some great discs and his rare Holst and Warlock for Arte Nova will always
have a place on my shelves, but, with the best will in the world, the
Partita could never be described as either one of VW's best or
even most accessible works. Despite excellent advocacy here (and elsewhere
by Handley and Boult) and the stab at dance-band populism in the Homage
to Henry ("Teddy Bears' Picnic") Hall, this work always strikes
me as a poor relation alongside other equally (relatively) neglected
pieces like the Oboe Concerto and Concerto Grosso.
So, despite closing on a fairly muted note, this is
a nice disc but one, as always with such compilations, which is a mixed
bag. However, at least half its duration is occupied by performances
and/or works which demand your attention, so overall it is well worth
the money, without I suppose ever attracting the "indispensible" tag
that so many of Boult's reissued EMI/VW discs still do.