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Golden Age singers

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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (1910)*
Norfolk Rhapsody no.1 (1906)**
The Lark Ascending (1914)†
In the Fen Country (1909, rev.1935)††
On Wenlock Edge (1909, orch. version f.p. 1924)‡
Sarah Chang (violin), Ian Bostridge (tenor)
London Philharmonic/Bernard Haitink
Recorded in No.1 Studio, Abbey Rd., London, *8-9th October 1986, **†17-18th December 1994, and ††‡The Colosseum, Watford, 13-14 December 1997.
EMI CLASSICS 7243 5 85151 2 1 [77:10]


A bit of a mixed bag, this. Haitink kicks off with a fine Tallis Fantasia, recorded in 1986. The pacing is good, as is the sense of perspective between the various tonal layers – first and second orchestras and solo group. That’s followed by a hauntingly autumnal Norfolk Rhapsody no.1, its bitter-sweet quality caught beautifully, and with considerable power in the main climactic statements. I found myself considering the impression this music might have made on the young George Butterworth, for there is a strong resemblance to his Shropshire Lad, in both the mood and the scoring of the slower sections.

The Lark Ascending is a different matter, unfortunately. Sarah Chang, brilliantly talented though she is, simply fails to capture the elusive mood and character of this little masterpiece. Her use of the bow is far too heavy, resulting in a sound that is too resonant and brilliant. I suspect the violinists in the accompanying LPO were cringing quietly – if only one of them could have taken Chang on one side and given her a few stylistic pointers! As it is, this performance is a non-starter in a very competitive field, with the old Bean/Boult/LPO version still leading the way.

Wonderful to have this fine reading of the ‘symphonic impression’ In the Fen Country, a musical image of the country around Cambridge, where VW was, of course, an undergraduate. As in the Norfolk Rhapsody, Haitink moulds the music with sensitivity and imagination, being careful never to hurry it. Indeed, I am aware that some find his approach too steady; for my own part, I appreciate the way he allows the music space to breathe, so that all the lovely touches of harmony and orchestration can register effectively.

But the highlight of the disc for many will be Ian Bostridge’s performance of six songs from On Wenlock Edge. In the original version of 1909, the voice is supported by piano and string quartet. Here we have, however, the later version VW made with orchestral accompaniment. And very beautiful it is, too, with, to take one example, the opening of Bredon Hill rendered breathtakingly evocative of the Shropshire countryside, muted strings, horns, harp and woodwind painting the picture.

Bostridge gives an alert, intelligent reading. As you would expect, it is vocally immaculate, with some fine use of a darker colouring than one is used to from his light, limpid voice. Words are projected with wondrous clarity – a model for all singers – and there is an unstuffy, informal approach which is very refreshing. Fine though much of the rest of the disc is, these songs, delivered by one of the world’s finest lyric tenors, are undoubtedly worth the price all on their own. The recording is excellent, preserving a perfectly natural balance between Bostridge and orchestra.

Gwyn Parry-Jones

 



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