> Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS [NH]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
English Folk Song Suite (Wind Band Version) (1923)°
The Lark Ascending (1914) ¹
Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (1910) ¹
Six Studies in English Folk Song (1926) ²
Three Vocalises for Soprano and Clarinet (1958) ²³
Partita for Double String Orchestra (1946-8)*
Iona Brown, violin¹
Emma Johnson, clarinet²³
Judith Howarth, soprano³
London Wind Orchestra°/Denis Wick
Academy of St. Martin in the Fields¹/Sir Neville Marriner
London Festival Orchestra/Ross Pople
Recorded in Abbey Road Studios¹, Henry Wood Hall²³, 31st May - 2nd June 1993 and All Hallows Church*, Gospel Oak, London, July 1991.
ASV PLATINUM PLT8520 [74.36]

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.

Neil Horner

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