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English String Classics
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)

Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1934)

Simple Symphony
George BUTTERWORTH (1885-1916)

The Banks of Green Willow
Edward ELGAR (1858-1934)

Serenade in E minor for Strings
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)

St. Paul’s Suite
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Christopher Warren-Green
Recorded in Watford Colosseum, 20th and 21st March, 2002
WARNER APEX 2564 61437 [67:12]

This disc was a delightful surprise. All the works on it are popular and much recorded; the Vaughan Williams in particular needs something extra special if it is to survive in the competition of Barbirolli, Marriner and others. But it’s good to report that this performance has got that special quality, as have the other items. Warren-Green’s approach is extremely spacious – his Tallis Fantasia at 16:32, is minutes longer than Marriner or Toscanini, and even 15 seconds slower than the classic Barbirolli on EMI, which I have always thought of as ideally measured.

There are many lovely subtle touches in the playing, too; for example, the fine solo violinist plays his final solo ascent without vibrato, perfectly in tune, then, as the other strings join in at the cadence, the vibrato is allowed to gently warm the sound – marvellous, and an example of the kind of touch a string player like Warren-Green can bring to his interpretations. On this topic, why have APEX failed to credit the important solo quartet of players in the VW? This should always be done, and it is downright discourteous not to do so. I know this is a bargain issue, but surely twelve words on the liner is not going to break the bank. Hmm.

That grouch aside, this CD is great value, because the other items maintain the high standard set by the Tallis Fantasia. Britten’s Simple Symphony fizzes with energy, and has an intensely expressive Sentimental Sarabande. Butterworth’s The Banks of Green Willow is the only work on the disc to use instruments other than strings, and there is fine playing in this from the RPO woodwind section. Near the end is a particularly poignant oboe solo at the introduction of the folk-song Green Bushes.

The Elgar Serenade receives a sympathetic and stylish performance, but I enjoyed the Holst St. Paul’s Suite as much as anything in the compilation. Again, Warren-Green is so successful in bringing out significant detail; everything is heard with great clarity, even though the large RPO string body ensures a really powerful weight of sound.

The recording is excellent, if a little boomy and bass heavy at times, largely because, I suspect, of the resonant acoustic of Watford’s Colosseum. But equally, the music is appropriately complemented by the cathedral-like ambience. This is a brilliant bargain.

Gwyn Parry-Jones

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