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The Best of Vaughan Williams
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
49th Parallel - Prelude [2:17]; Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis [15:12]; Linden Lea [2:40]; Symphony No 2 "London" - extract [8:09]; Silent Noon [4:41]; Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus - extract [6:10]; Symphony No 1 "A Sea Symphony" - extract "On the Beach at Night, Alone" [10:29]; Fantasia on Greensleeves [4:37]; The Lark Ascending [15:23].
RTE Concert Orchestra/Andrew Penny (1); New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/James Judd (2,9); Bournemouth Symphony Chorus (8); Roderick Williams (baritone)(3); Iain Burnside (piano)(3); Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Kees Bakels (5); Paul Daniel (8, 10); Christopher Maltman (baritone) (8); Anthony Rolfe Johnson (tenor) (6); Graham Johnson (piano) (6); Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (7)/David Lloyd-Jones (7, 10); David Greed (violin) (10); English Northern Philharmonia (10)
Recording details not given but available on Naxos website.

NAXOS 8.556835 [79:00] 


Experience Classicsonline

There are some enjoyable performances amongst this anthology, but variable and sometimes mediocre sound quality is a drawback. It commendably covers different aspects of the composer's writing - vocal and orchestral, for cinema, on religious themes, symphonies, songs.  It includes what are probably his best-known works, but as a survey of his output it has some limitations - in particular by not representing sufficiently the remarkable work of his last decade. It might be more accurately described as "best-known" rather than "Best of". A double CD would have given more scope to show the wide range of this composer's writing, which is not always fully appreciated.

Notwithstanding, some of these performances are of sufficient merit in themselves to justify the purchase of this budget disk.  In particular, I would commend Roderick Williams' performance of "Linden Lea", which is a real delight - his voice being very well suited to the music.  The singing of "Silent Noon", by the tenor Anthony Rolfe Johnson accompanied by Graham Johnson on piano, is also excellent. 

This is followed by another track which I particularly liked, an extract from "Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus", performed by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. The RLPO Orchestra have made a number of commendable recordings of the works of Vaughan Williams under the recently deceased and perhaps under-appreciated Vernon Handley, a great champion of English music of the first half of the 20th century. This work sets a folk-tune which is also the setting of a well-known hymn and then goes on to develop it through variations. 

Slightly oddly placed halfway through the disc is a very enjoyable performance of 'The Wasps' overture by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Vaughan Williams wrote this to accompany a theatrical performance of the Aristophanes play in its original Greek at Cambridge.  Its opening is particularly excellent here, and in my opinion it would have made a better first track than the extract used in this position of the 49th Parallel Prelude, which is marred somewhat by its sound quality. 

The well-known 'Fantasia on a theme of Thomas Tallis' (now taken to new heights by the excellent Proms performance given by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Andrew Davis - Prom 57) is given a very slow but thoughtful and pleasant performance by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra who later in the disk perform the also well-known and loved 'Fantasia on Greensleeves', although this I found again pleasant but somewhat unexciting. 

Vaughan Williams' symphonic output is acknowledged through the not entirely representative choice of extracts from his first and second symphonies, tracks eight and four of the disc respectively. The London Symphony (number two), arguably a good choice in being a characteristic and well evolved work relatively early in the composer's working life, is represented by part of its  first movement. The performance here, by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, is very slow and I have to say I do not like it as much overall as the Liverpudlian recording of this work under Vernon Handley. However as the track progress, the "jig" section evolves well and would show the listener new to Vaughan Williams some of his most typical end enjoyable music. 

The First ('Sea') Symphony is a work which I find intrinsically more problematic, although it reflects a major concern for the composer and hence a significant strand of his work. This performance, again from the Bournemouth Symphony - this time under Paul Daniel - is regrettably marred at times by some distortion and patchy sound quality. There is a contrast between the dramatic playing of the opening sequence portraying the scene and the almost syrupy, over-refined singing which fails to convey the bleak and desolate scene. Regrettably the limited space on the disc has precluded extracts from pastoral, war or late symphonies, which as someone with a serious interest in this admirable composer's work I find a disappointing omission. 

'The Lark Ascending', again a very well known and popular work, closes the disc. It is a good choice - to include a work with instrumental rather than vocal soloist - but there are a wide range of better quality recordings, some of them inexpensive. 

Although there are some very enjoyable pieces here, there are already good inexpensive recordings of most of the RVW catalogue.

Julie Williams


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