on Sanctuary Classics’ budget ‘Resonance’ label, there is
nothing low budget sounding about the English Sinfonia. The
Concerto opens with the emphasis very much on the con
brio aspect of the score’s marking – the tempo not too Allegro but
lacking nothing in rhythmic punch and drive. Comparing with
William Boughton’s 1987 recording on Nimbus the tempi are
pretty much identical, and at 22.23 for the whole piece one
might suspect more than one person of using this recording
as a reference. The English String Orchestra for Nimbus inhabit
their usual resonant acoustic, and are slightly more distant
than the English Sinfonia, who nonetheless happily play in
a satisfyingly accommodating set of halls on this CD.
beautiful second Adagio cantabile movement of the
Concerto betrays a difference in content – Farrer teasing
more drama and more intense solos from his players, and Boughton
being altogether more mellow and laid back. In the end it
is Boughton who wins for me. His middle section is searching
and probing, leading the listener by the hand through unknown
paths. Farrer wanders a little more aimlessly, getting there
in the end, but being slightly less inviting on the way – I
do prefer his cello solo though, which somehow soars and
supports the string orchestra sound at the same time. Back
into Allegro molto for the third movement, and the
Sinfonia excel once again with superb dynamics pace and bounce.
It is here that the more direct bass sound on Sanctuary pays
dividends, pushing the harmonic rhythm ahead and giving the
music far more in the way of ‘balls’.
Music for Strings’ is of course pretty much the same story
by comparison, though Boughton’s performance displays a firmness
of resolution from the outset which is hard to deny. This
characterful performance is hampered more by the swimmy acoustic
on the Nimbus recording, with more detail and a greater sense
of inner voicing and counterpoint with the English Sinfonia.
I like the older recordings, but am also grateful for this
new issue, which has me listening to this marriage of Baroque
techniques and Tippett’s sculptural thematic virtuosity with
opening spread harp chords and rhapsodic melodies of Vaughan
Williams’ ‘Dives and Lazarus’ bring us immediately into a
completely different world, wisely separated into ‘side 2’ of
this compilation. Described by the composer as ‘reminiscences’ of
traditional tunes (rather than direct replicas), and as such
are archetypal examples of what any outsider might point
to as having qualities of true Englishness in music. They
have an immediate charm and are not without emotional content
and association – having been played at Vaughan Williams’ memorial
service at Westminster Abbey.
The Partita is
a reworking of an earlier work for string sextet, ‘Double
Trio’. After a number of revisions the orchestral version
was premiered in 1948. While it is understandable that this
work has been overshadowed by the Fantasia on a Theme
by Thomas Tallis, it is more than a mere pot-boiler.
Worth no more or less than the sum of its parts, its principal
problem is the lack of a strong and memorable theme. Take
almost any other great work for strings, and there is invariably
some powerful ‘hook’ which draws the memory back to the piece
again and again. Vaughan Williams’ writing is effective,
with some fun dance-like moments, and is at times dramatic
and involving, but is more pass-time than world-shaker.
low-price, this is a welcome collection of interesting and
attractive pieces for string orchestra. The recordings and
performances yield little or nothing to more expensive versions,
and therefore deserve a fulsome recommendation.