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The English Connection
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)

The Lark Ascending (1914)
Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (1910)
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)

Serenade for String Orchestra in E minor Op.20 (1892)
Michael TIPPETT (1905-1998)

Fantasia Concertante on a Theme of Corelli (1953)
Iona Brown (violin)
Malcolm Latchem (violin)
Kenneth Sillito (violin)
Stephen Shingles (viola)
Denis Vigay (cello)
Academy of St Martin-in-the Fields/Neville Marriner
Recorded 1983
ASV CD DCA 518 [61.48]


ASV are promoting once again this staple of the repertoire which has seen fine service, on and off, over a twenty year period. Part of the reason may be in the nature of an obituary, because it enshrines the late Iona Brown’s first recording of The Lark Ascending, a thoroughly beautiful and idiomatic piece of fiddling and much preferable to her early 1990s remake. Most big name soloists fail to suppress their outsize personalities sufficiently in this work and it’s left to leaders and occasional soloists such as Pougnet, Bean and Brown (from these shores at least) to get to its heart. I’ve heard enough vibrato-laced dramas to last a lifetime (Zuckerman, Tognetti or Kennedy’s Great Bustard of a lark which barely gets airborne) but Brown knows how this work goes and but for the rather too forward clarinet and horn solos this would be a pretty fine piece of analogue recording as well. Otherwise her purity of tone and simplicity and directness are entirely winning. Collectors will have Bean, the more historically minded the other Boult accompanied traversal with Jean Pougnet; antiquarians will push for the first ever re-release of the 1927 Isolde Menges recording, with Sargent conducting. If we can’t have the dedicatee Marie Hall on disc let’s have Menges.

Unlike the Lark I have a soft spot for Marriner’s later recording of the Tallis Fantasia. This one lacks a certain mystery but against that I must say it’s a recording that lays out the harmonic implications and the spatial balances with real acumen. There’s an unusual clarity to the recording that allows one to hear unexpected harmonic twists – and no less, the quartet’s role. Here Brown is again prominent as well as Shingles’ astute viola and Vigay’s exemplary cello playing. Elgar’s Serenade is sprucely played – with fine phrasing in the Larghetto, its lower voices established with care. In the Tippett Iona Brown is joined by Kenneth Sillito to form a formidable two-violin team. There’s great tonal richness and a sense of sweep in this performance and a sense of exultation as well.

An outright recommendation will depend on your priorities but the playing itself is of a notably high standard and those yet to be entranced by Brown’s Lark now have a renewed chance to become acquainted.

Jonathan Woolf

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