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Ernest John MOERAN (1894 - 1950)
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (1937-42) [32:52]
Frederick DELIUS (1862 - 1934)
Légende, for Violin and Orchestra (c. 1892-95) [8:09]
Gustav HOLST (1874 - 1934)
A Song of the Night  for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 19/1, H 74 (1905) [8:33]
Sir Edward ELGAR (1857 - 1934)
Chanson de matin, Op. 15/2 (1899) (arr. Roger Turner) [3:02]
Chanson de nuit, Op. 15/1 (1897-99) (arr. Roger Turner) [3:42]
Salut d’amour, Op. 12 (1888) (arr. Roger Turner) [3:13]
(Première recordings of these arrangements)
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872 - 1958)
The Lark Ascending, Romance for Violin and Orchestra (1914, revised 1920) [15:33]
Tasmin Little (violin)/BBC Philharmonic/Sir Andrew Davis
rec. 23 and 26 May, 2013, MediaCity, Salford, UK
CHANDOS CHAN10796  [75:45]

On the face of it one might be surprised that the work that is most heavily featured on the cover of this new Chandos disc - though without mentioning the name of its composer - is The Lark Ascending since that’s not the most substantial piece in the programme. However, it’s the best-known work in this collection and so the decision of the Chandos marketing team is understandable. As it turns out, it’s also an appropriate one for in an excellent collection of performances the reading of The Lark stands out as exceptionally fine.
 
The beginning of The Lark is marvellously expansive; you can visualise the bird dipping and soaring in flight, Tasmin Little’s beautifully articulated playing cushioned on a refined bed of sound provided by the orchestra. She offers glorious, beguiling playing and Sir Andrew Davis obtains an ultra-refined accompaniment from the BBC Philharmonic. The music is given a timeless quality; here is captured a vision of an English pastoral landscape now largely vanished for ever. The central folk-like episode (from 6:54) is affectionately done, the music marvellously coloured and the rhythms articulated to just the right degree. When eventually (at 13:23) the lark is once more left alone in the clear skies the bird soars ever higher and further until he - or she - is out of our sight and hearing. This is an exceptionally fine performance of this work and I’m struggling to recall hearing a finer or more affecting account of it.
 
Moeran’s Violin Concerto is a great rarity in our concert halls and many collectors will know it - as I do - solely through discs or broadcasts. Given its overall neglect it hasn’t fared too badly as far as recordings go: there’s the good modern version, also on Chandos, by Lydia Mordkovich (review) through which I first came to know the work back in the early 1990s; there’s the somewhat earlier version by John Georgiadis, which I’ve not heard (review); and there are two historical issues, which will be of much more specialist appeal, by Campoli (review) and by Albert Sammonds (review) - I’ve not heard the latter. Whenever I hear the Moeran concerto I enjoy it very much but I don’t think one has to look too far to understand why it’s not heard more often. The substantial first movement contains much winning and lovely music but I don’t think it’s assertive enough in character to grab the attention of the musical general public. Similarly, the finale, while very beautiful, is more what one might expect as the central slow movement of a concerto and it doesn’t round off the work with a crowd-pleasing virtuoso display.
 
Those may be the reasons why the work is neglected: what about the reasons why it should be heard more often? Well, it is beautifully written to exploit the singing quality of the violin and the orchestration is colourful; it is, in short, a most attractive composition. However, I think the prime merit of the concerto is the sheer beauty of much of the music and, my goodness, that beauty comes out in this outstanding new recording. Much of the music in the substantial first movement is lyrical and rhapsodic in nature, especially the material given to the soloist. This songful music is meat and drink to Tasmin Little who plays poetically and with great feeling. Despite the predominantly lyrical nature of the movement there are opportunities for display and she grasps these gladly. She benefits from superb support from Davis and his orchestra - just to give one example, sample the woodwind-led jig-like music that begins, with delightful sparkle, at 5:43.
 
The second movement offers excellent contrast to the first. It’s a twinkle-eyed rondo-scherzo. Apparently, it evokes the spirit of the summer fairs in County Kerry in Moeran’s beloved Ireland. This movement is full of life and gaiety though even here Moeran is unable to resist the occasional brief dart down a lyrical alley away from the market place where the fair is in full swing. Tasmin Little’s playing in this scherzo is full of verve and sparkle and the BBC Philharmonic are clearly on their toes as well. Moeran ends his concerto with a gorgeously lyrical and rhapsodic slow movement. There’s no dazzling virtuosity or high spirits here but the music is wonderfully evocative. Miss Little offers delectable and dedicated playing and perhaps it’s in these nine minutes or so that her ability to spin a singing line is most evident. Under the direction of Sir Andrew Davis the BBC Phil once again plays marvellously: so nuanced is the orchestral playing here and throughout the concerto that they give the impression that this is a score that they play as often as, say, the Brahms Violin Concerto. This is a fantastic performance of the concerto; I don’t believe I’ve heard it done better.
 
The remainder of the disc is filled out with some miniatures. The Delius Légende is an early work, mainly lyrical in character but with a few brief impassioned passages. It’s by no means a major Delius work but Tasmin Little does it beautifully. She makes a similarly fine job of Holst’s Song of the Night. Though composed in 1905 it wasn’t performed until 1984. Frankly, it’s not a piece that expands our knowledge of Holst to any extent but even so Tasmin Little and Sir Andrew lavish on it as much care as if it were a major masterpiece.
 
The three Elgar miniatures are heard here in brand-new arrangements by Roger Turner. These were made in 2013 and are here recorded for the first time. Elgar made versions of each of these pieces both for violin and piano and for small orchestra. Essentially, what Turner has done is to conflate the two versions, adding the violin part from the former version to the orchestral score. These re-workings seem very successful to me and Tasmin Little plays them with beguiling charm.
 
This is an exceptionally fine disc, recorded in excellent sound by the Chandos engineers. Tasmin Little here gives us, surely, the finest available recording of the Moeran concerto. There are so many recordings of The Lark Ascending that it’s a brave man who would say this version is the best in the catalogue: I’m going to be brave.
 
John Quinn
 
See also Download review by Brian Wilson
 
Moeran review index: Violin concerto

Vaughan Williams review index: The Lark Ascending  


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