Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (1910) [15:41]
London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Antonio Pappano
rec. live 15 March 2020.
Reviewed as downloaded with pdf booklet from
(16.44.1, 24/96 and 24/192 available) Download only
LSO LIVE LSO0366
A short review for a short recording,
available as a download only, from Hyperion in 16-bit and hi-res 24-bit and
from Amazon in mp3 only.
I never got round to reviewing the LSO Live recording of Vaughan Williams’
Symphonies Nos. 4 and 6, conducted by Sir Antonio Pappano (LSO0867),
largely because reviews by two colleagues pretty well said it all. John
Quinn made it a Recording of the Month
– and David McDade, on whose behalf I originally obtained the download, as
part of the team which I co-ordinate, was also impressed, though he thought
the performances lacked just ‘the last bit of fire and the last ounce of
My own thoughts are closer to the former than the latter.
Pappano is British by birth, though he has spent much of his life in the
USA, and he became best known for conducting Italian opera, though his
recordings include a wide range of other styles, from Birtwistle to Wagner.
Even so, he comes to Vaughan Williams from a slightly different angle from
Boult or Barbirolli among older conductors, or Elder, Brabbins or Manze on
more recent recordings. That slightly different angle certainly doesn’t
disqualify him, as demonstrated by a recent Sony release of British music
which comes from a very different angle. Entitled Very British, on it a German
orchestra, Metamorphosen Berlin, and conductor, Wolfgang Emanuel Schmidt
offer performances of Elgar, Britten, Warlock and Jenkins. They include an
Elgar Serenade for Strings not outclassed even by the classic Barbirolli, a
Britten Simple Symphony offering an alternative to the composer’s own
recording and a very fine account of Warlock’s Capriol Suite, concluding
with music by Karl Jenkins – a very fine piece adapted from music for an
advert. (Sony G0100045460061, my review pending; why do we have to have
such complicated catalogue numbers?).
If these two powerful symphonies are a little too strong for your taste,
but would like to sample Pappano’s Vaughan Williams, you can turn to the
LSO Live recording of just the Tallis Fantasia. There could hardly
be a greater contrast than that between the two symphonies and the ethereal Fantasia, recorded in the same concert as No.6 on that fateful
night before live concerts were silenced by the Covid lockdown. I believe
that the Fantasia was programmed to soothe the small, nervous,
social-distancing audience before the symphony and the Britten Violin
Concerto; if it’s not quite the most ethereal recording that I have heard,
I’m sure that it served that purpose very well. On the other hand, it’s just
a shade too purposeful, a little too business-like for me, though I should
add that two reviews of the live performance thought more highly of the
performance than I did.
Among the recordings that I would choose for my Desert Island, I really
wish that Warner would restore the Classics for Pleasure recording of the Tallis Fantasia, Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus and Job, and
would do so at a more reasonable price than the exorbitant £15+
being asked for the downloads, without booklets, of these remnants of
Vernon Handley’s very fine Vaughan Williams. The extra minute or so which
he gave the Tallis Fantasia to breathe just gives him the edge on
Pappano, but Pappano easily excels Roman Simovic on another LSO Live
recording, who pelts through the work in 14:26. John Quinn was spot on in
writing that the work eludes Simovic, the spirit of the music totally
I thought it routine and uninviting –
Pappano gets much closer, if not quite close enough, to the heart of music which left Ivor Gurney and
Herbert Howells wandering the streets of Gloucester in a daze when they
first heard it.
Overall, then, while I very much like Pappano’s recording of the two
symphonies, his near-miss account of the Tallis Fantasia leaves me
returning to Handley and, most of all, to the classic Barbirolli with its
Elgar and Delius couplings (Warner 0851872, download only –
5-star review of earlier reissue).
Of modern recordings, the Manze recording with James Ehnes and the Royal
Liverpool Philharmonic is well worth considering – it’s coupled not with a
symphony but with The Lark Ascending, Serenade to Music, Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus, the Greensleeves Fantasia and the
English Folk Song Suite (ONYX4212 –
In my review I wondered if Manze and the RLPO would give us more
‘miscellaneous’ Vaughan Williams – perhaps the Oxford Elegy, of
which the evocative Westbrook, King’s and Willcocks recording remains
unrivalled (Warner 2435672215, download only, no booklet). Maybe Pappano is
the man to do that.