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Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
The Essential Vaughan Williams
rec. 1950s-1980s
EMI CLASSICS 50999 2 07992 2 9
[78:12 + 77:28]
Experience Classicsonline

CD 1 [78:12]
The Lark Ascending [14:42]
Hugh Bean (violin); New Philharmonia Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
Linden Lea (words by William Barnes) [2:50]
Dame Janet Baker (mezzo-soprano); Gerald Moore (piano)
Fantasia on Greensleeves [4:40]
Sinfonia of London/Sir John Barbirolli
Silent Noon [4:16]
Ian Bostridge (tenor); Julius Drake (piano)
English Folk Song Suite (orch. Gordon Jacob) [8:46]
London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
The Vagabond (from Songs of Travel) [3:07]
Anthony Rolfe Johnson (tenor); David Willison (piano)
Serenade to Music (original version with 16 soloists) [13:13]
Norma Burrowes; Sheila Armstrong; Susan Longfield; Marie Hayward (soprano); Alfreda Hodgson; Gloria Jennings; Shirley Minty; Meriel Dickinson (contralto); Ian Partridge; Bernard Dickerson; Wynford Evans; Kenneth Bowen (tenor); Richard Angas; John Carol Case; John Noble; Christopher Keyte (bass); London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
On Wenlock Edge [3:49]
Ian Partridge (tenor)/Music Group of London
Rhosymedre [3:57]
Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields/Sir Neville Marriner
The Call (Five Mystical Songs) [2:07]
John Shirley-Quirk (baritone)/English Chamber Orchestra/Sir David Willcocks
Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis [16:13]
Sinfonia of London/Sir John Barbirolli
CD 2 [77:28]
The Wasps Overture [10:09]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
Loch Lomond [3:42]
Ca' the Yowes [5:09]
Ian Partridge (tenor); London Madrigal Singers/Christopher Bishop
Five Variants of ‘Dives and Lazarus' [11:23]
Jacques Orchestra/Sir David Willcocks
O Taste and See [1:40]
James Lancelot (organ); Ivan Sharpe (treble); Winchester Cathedral Choir/Martin Neary
Job – Pavane of the Sons of Morning [2:11]
London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
Bushes and Briars [3:00]
Wassail Song [2:42]
Baccholian Singers of London
For all the saints (Sine nomine) [5:07]
John Scott Whiteley (organ); York Minster Choir/Philip Moore
The truth sent from above [2:06]
Choir of King’s College/Cambridge/David Willcocks
O Little town of Bethlehem (Forest Green) [3:29]
Choir of King’s College/Cambridge/Sir Philip Ledger
The Lamb [2:13]
Ian Partridge (tenor); Janet Craxton (oboe)
Scherzo from Symphony No. 7 'Sinfonia antartica' [5:29]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
Orpheus With His Lute (first setting) [3:15]
David Daniels (counter-tenor); Martin Katz (piano)
Mass in G minor – Kyrie [3:55]
John Eaton (treble)/Nigel Perrin (alto)/Robin Doveton (tenor); David van Asch (bass)
Choir of King’s College/Cambridge/Sir David Willcocks
The blessed Son of God [2:34]
Bach Choir/Sir David Willcocks
Come down/O Love divine (trans. R. F. Littledale – v.4 arr. Williamson) [3:40]
Thomas Williamson (organ)
All people that on earth do dwell - (William Kethe – Louis Bourgeois arr. RVW; version for brass ensemble and organ by Roy Douglas) [4:55]
Benjamin Bayl (organ); Choir of King’s College/Cambridge/Stephen Cleobury

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Vaughan Williams’ death this year EMI have released a 30-CD set of his "Masterworks"; a comprehensive introduction to his body of work. If you don’t want to stretch that far, however, then this 2-CD collection will do very nicely indeed.

If any label was to do a retrospective of Vaughan Williams’ work then it is wholly appropriate that it should be EMI. Their archive contains an unrivalled collection of recordings that have come to be seen as definitive, and in many cases are the only recordings of that work. They have plundered their treasury to provide a superb compendium here. It all begins with Hugh Bean’s classic account of The Lark Ascending which evokes the still timelessness of a summer’s day under Boult’s expert direction. Boult is also on call for his classic Serenade to Music with a top collection of soloists who suggest happy memories of a bygone era, quite fitting in the light of this work’s origins. Boult’s set of symphonies is also used to provide the movement from the Sinfonia Antartica as is his Job from the same 1970s set. The other major orchestral contributions come from Sir John Barbirolli whose justly famous accounts of Greensleeves and the Tallis Fantasia are given here. His spellbinding Tallis Fantasia is the most marvellous account of the work I have come across: the performances elicited from each constituent group blend into a marvellous whole, helped by the splendid EMI sound which places you in the centre of what feels like a vast acoustic surrounded by the participants. If you don’t have this recording then buying this set is worth it for this track alone.

EMI stalwart David Willcocks turns up happily often too. He conducts the Jacques Orchestra in a marvellously sonorous Dives and Lazarus. He conducts many sung items too, including the magical opening of the G Minor Mass and one of the Five Mystical Songs. The hymns are marvellously and professionally sung, though not with too much polish, which is important for congregational pieces. The solo singing from English legends like Janet Baker and John Shirley-Quirk is most welcome and the various folksongs are treated like the excellent music they are. Even David Daniels gives a marvellous other-worldly feel to Orpheus with his Lute.

With performances like this all collected together for the first time, this set is a guaranteed winner. It would be easy to complain about some omissions, but that would be churlish in light of the riches on offer here. Every aspect of Vaughan Williams’ output is represented - except the concertos and operas - and it’s impossible to imagine a better introduction to the marvellous diversity of his work. After this it would be fitting to explore the heavier repertoire such as the symphonies, but this forms an excellent springboard.

Simon Thompson




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