Far from the Madding Crowd - A Fantasia of British Classical & Film Music
CD 1
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
The Lark Ascending * (1914) [17:17]
Fantasia on ‘Greensleeves’ (1934) (violin version) * [4:32]
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
St Paul’s Suite (1912-13) [9:21]
Dario MARIONELLI (b. 1963)
Atonement Elegy for Dunkirk (2007) [5:02]
Rachel PORTMAN (b. 1960)
The Duchess (2008) End Titles [6:37]
Sir William WALTON (1902-1983)
Henry V Suite: Passacaglia: The Death of Falstaff; Touch Her Sweet Lips and Part (1943-4) [4:52]
Peter WARLOCK (1894-1930)
Capriol Suite (1926) [8:17]
Richard RODNEY BENNETT (b. 1936)
Far From the Madding Crowd (1967) - Concert Suite [13:32]

CD 2
Trevor DUNCAN (1924-2005)
A Little Suite (1959) (Lullaby [4:07]; Jogtrot [5:15]; Doctor Finlay’s Case Book – March [3:04])
Patrick DOYLE (b. 1953)
Hamlet – Sweets to the Sweet Farewell (1996) [5:15]
Nigel HESS (b. 1953)
Ladies in Lavender – Main Theme (2004) [4:18]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (1910) [14:35]
English Folk Song Suite (1923) orch. Gordon Jacobs (1942): March: Seventeen Come Sunday; Intermezzo: My Bonny Boy; March: Folk Songs from Somerset [10:09];
Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Elegy (1909) [3:34]
Nimrod (Enigma Variations) (1898-9) [3:41]
Stephen SONDHEIM (b. 1930)
Suite: Sweeney Todd (1979) [19:27]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Fantasia on ‘Greensleeves’ (flute version) [4:40]
Lucie Švehlová (violin) *
City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra/Miriam Nemcová
rec. Smecky Music Studios Prague, 2008
TADLOW 006 [73:17 + 78:16]

Here is an enterprising album mixing for the first time, as far as I am aware, classical music (source music when such material is used in films) and original film scores. Again, unusually, rather than a British orchestra, this is the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. Although this orchestra has been honed to a high quality of delivery by this particular production team so that they are very familiar with British and American music. The violinist and conductor are both ladies - very welcome.

The opening Greensleeves Fantasia of Vaughan Williams is sweetly delivered; some of the nuances may seem a little strange to British-trained ears, nevertheless this reading’s sincerity and warmth won this reviewer over. Similarly, Švehlová’s nuancing and expressiveness for The Lark is equally captivating. Nemcová’s accompaniment is generally attractive except, perhaps, for some brass quirkiness and the odd tendency towards ponderousness. The folksong-like middle section poses some difficulties in interpretation for the Czech players – but I am being picky. RVW’s English Folk Song Suite swaggers along jauntily through Seventeen Come Sunday; lingers lovingly across My Bonny Boy and skips spryly through Folk Songs from Somerset. This performance of Vaughan Williams’s Tallis Fantasia can equal many rival versions, the high arching melodies and quietly uttered pastoral episodes beautifully shaped. Again the sweet tone of Švehlová and the playing of the string quartet impresses.

Elgar is represented sparsely with just the celebrated Nimrod variation from Enigma and Elegy both read by Nemcová with heartfelt poignancy. It would be interesting to hear a complete recording of the Enigma Variations by Nemcová.

Holst’s rhythmic vitality in the St Paul’s Suite is well caught here but a little more bounce might have helped the Jig. The central Ostinato and Intermezzo beguile, however, the Prague strings being expressively silken. Walton’s music for Henry V unfolds mournfully, majestically for Falstaff’s Death and poignantly for Touch her lips. Nemcová also delivers very satisfactory readings of the stately, tripping, jovial, 16th century dances that form Peter Warlock’s Capriol. The jauntiness of Trevor Duncan’s theme that introduced the many episodes of Dr Finlay’s Casebook (from Duncan’s A Little Suite) screened back in the days of British black and white TV was a nice nostalgic reminder. It is followed here by the lovely Lullaby and the evocative and equally memorable Jogtrot from that same suite.

Dario Marionelli’s poignant and moving Elegy for Dunkirk was one of the soundtrack’s highlights for the film Atonement and it receives a heartfelt performance here. Rachel Portman’s score for The Duchess (charting the 18th century Duchess of Devonshire’s adventures) demonstrates her usual luminous style. Patrick Doyle has delivered some very worthy scores for Shakespearean adaptations and we have here the romantic interlude Sweets to the Sweet Farewell from Kenneth Branagh’s realisation of Hamlet. The most significant score recorded here is the 14-or-so-minute Far From the Madding Crowd suite by Richard Rodney Bennett. It so brilliantly embodies the spirit of Thomas Hardy’s novel and the Dorset landscape and the lives of its protagonists; pastoral romance, melodrama and elemental threats aplenty. Nigel Hess’s music nicely captures the tender autumnal romantic yearnings of Ladies in Lavender.

Two bonuses are included on CD 2. The most substantial is an 8-movement suite from Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd beginning in grand gothic style with the film’s Main Titles. It employs organ and subterranean swirlings and mumblings with a chorus adding further chills and thrills. London pride, sardonic humour, romance and pathos ensue. The Prague players clearly relish this bloodthirsty outing. The other bonus is a further take on RVW’s Fantasia on Greensleeves with flute prominent.

A rewarding double album for those less familiar with classical music. Knowledgeable classical enthusiasts will not sniff at this either. Classical devotees may also derive much enjoyment from the original film scores.

Ian Lace

A rewarding double album.