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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Oboe Concerto (1944) [20.05]
Tuba Concerto (1954) [12.50]
Sinfonia Antartica (1949) [39.28]
The Wasps - Overture (1909) [8.37]
Fantasia on Greensleeves (1934) [4.19]
Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus (1939) [12.55]
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)

Introduction and Allegro (1905) [13.22]
Serenade (1888) [12.11]
Cockaigne - In London Town (1900) [14.15]
rec variously 1949-1954, Abbey Road and Houldsworth Hall, Manchester, ADD MONO
EMI CLASSICS CMS 5 66543 2 [71.44+65.59]



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These are mono recordings made between 1949 and 1957. They sound very clean and clear though the second disc’s items are not quite as good.

The Oboe Concerto is an exceptionally joyous performance and I urge you, if sampling the disc, to try the supple and perfectly balanced finale (tr. 3 CD1). Evelyn Rothwell's oboe playing is reedily plaintive and the instrument is brawly blown. This must be heard by any admirers of this work. The RVW concertos are often seen as a bit of an excrescence. This version carries subtle spiritual weight and glows in Technicolor serenity. If you want a good stereo version then go for John Williams in the Berglund-conducted recording also on EMI. Rothwell's is however a great performance.

The gruff Tuba Concerto is here played by its dedicatee and is historically significant for that reason alone. Catelinet has a breathy-lippy tone which I found disconcerting when compared with the few other recordings. This is not a great performance though it is pleasing. If you want a really good version then the one André Previn made in the 1960s with the LSO’s tuba principal John Fletcher is worth tracking down (RCA/BMG).

The Antartica was premiered by Barbirolli in Manchester on 14 January 1953, then given its London first at the Festival Hall in February. This recording was made that summer. The music was written between 1949 and 1952 after the premiere of the film Scott of the Antarctic in 1948. This version must therefore be regarded as another historic document. It sounds quite clean; its impact is not garish. Woodwind are emphasised by the balance. Barbirolli really pitches in with a gruff fast sea-swell of a tempo at the opening of the finale. Overall though I still wonder about this work as a symphony. It is in some ways better thought of as a chilly concerto for orchestra where pleasure comes from the many vivid pictorial episodes.

The second disc mixes Elgar and Vaughan Williams. The Wasps is raced forward with Barbirolli pushing and urging forward. Repose and serenity comes in the great soul-widening theme at 3.40. This is a most vital performance. The Greensleeves Fantasia is restful and luxurious. It leads with an ineluctable spontaneity into the Dives and Lazarus Variants - a work which, in Barbirolli's hands, is almost sultry. Full advantage is taken of the richly decked harp accompaniment. Listening to this Barbirolli would have made an ideal interpreter of Suk's Wenceslas Chorale.

In the Elgar works Barbirolli lays into the contours with an emphatic jaggedness that makes the sweeter converse of the solo quartet the more effective. Such deliberate accentuation sounds wonderfully gruff and fresh; would that the recording which is not at all bad were even better otherwise it might have given the Sinfonia of London version a run for its money. Such slam and exciting attack ... and such portamenti. The Serenade's Edwardian pallor is flattered by Barbirolli and his precise care. Cockaigne is as cocky and rambunctious as you might hope for. It is only a specialist item because of the sound quality which has the higher violin passages sound as if they are suffering from the aural equivalent of fine split-ends.

Rob Barnett



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