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VW extravaganza PASC672

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)
Boult – a Vaughan Williams Extravaganza
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
rec. 1953-1956
Reviewed as 24-bit FLAC download
Stereo & Ambient Stereo

This double CD of favourite Vaughan Williams works is a continuation of Pristine’s tribute to the composer in his birth sesquicentennial year with their remastering into Ambient Stereo of Sir Adrian Boult’s studio recordings from the 1950s.

The re-issues of the symphonies have been a resounding success and the mostly shorter, lighter works here – with the exception of the substantial Job – complement them, especially as no collection of Vaughan Williams’’ music would be complete without that “masque for dancing”, the Thomas Tallis and Greensleeves Fantasias. Pieces such as the 1923 folk dance ballet Old King Cole have been far less frequently performed and recorded, and I refer you to James Altena’s comprehensive note for the history of Boult’s recordings of the eight works included in this set.

First, as with the symphonies, the improvement Pristine secures in the original mono sound is striking, but despite the excellence of the remastering of the mono recordings, the sound in the Partita for Double String Orchestra is noticeably and markedly more vivid and immediate than anything else, indicating its stereo origin – and of course it, too, has been remastered. The set opens with the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis and the depth of sound for what was originally a 1953 mono recording is remarkable, with minimal hiss, a real sense of space and very little glare on the upper strings. This enhancement by Andrew Rose is uniform throughout and, as ever, we listeners may feel that far from the sound being “mucked about with”, we are closer than ever before to experiencing what Boult wanted. The surge and glow of this account is captivating and while I agree with the notes that Boult here is more concerned to emphasise the “rhythmic incisiveness and clarity of the interweaving lines” over textural lushness, it is not true, however, that this performance is “slightly over 14 minutes”; it is in fact fifteen minutes long and thus retains sufficient languor in the big, long-breathed phrases to avoid undue briskness.

Vaughan Williams dedicated the score of Job to Boult and it was a favourite of the conductor; he recorded it five times, this being the second of those occasions. This version has been issued by Decca in “electronically reprocessed stereo” but Pristine secure better results here. The performance itself is both taut and lyrical by turns; for example, the harsh outburst by the brass halfway through the first track is highly dramatic but the ensuing Big Tune of the Saraband could not be nobler. Boult really has the key to this score; every note bespeaks authenticity. There are a venom and a viciousness about the orchestral characterisation of Satan which conjure up a mental picture of the dancer impersonating him in what was of course no “masque” but a true ballet. The instrumental colours in the exotic, haunting Minuet of Scene 3 emerge vividly and discordant intrusion of Satan at its close is still shocking, as are the rage and terror of Scene 6, opening with its sly alto saxophone riff and concluding with the vision of hell. By contrast, Joseph Shadwick’s violin solo on Scene 7 is a thing of beauty, as are the two Pavanes and the serene Epilogue.

Old King Cole is a mostly raucous, rumbustious rarity featuring typically novel and inventive orchestration, bearing many of the marks pointing forward to Job in its exploitation of dance rhythms and heavy textures, and soulful solo violin passages. It is not major music but it is most entertaining and Boult gives it enthusiastic advocacy. The English Folk Song Suite is similarly invigorating and tuneful, again constantly enlivened by Vaughan Williams’ instrumental and orchestral variety; the “Big Band” treatment of the rollicking Somerset folk tune is a hoot - and there is little to be said about the recording here of the beloved Fantasia on Greensleeves beyond observing that it is given an affectionate - but not sentimental – outing and is beautifully played.

The Norfolk Rhapsody No. 1 is a much subtler, more diaphanous piece and although there has clearly been some master tape deterioration, still sounds perfectly acceptable. There is a kind of Sibelian-come-Delian gauziness and mystery about its opening and its mood often prefigures Britten’s ‘Sea Interludes’ from Peter Grimes – perhaps unsurprising given the geographical proximity of the origins of their respective compositions. It was the first of Vaughan Williams’ orchestral works to speak with a voice identifiably his and Boult deftly captures its blithe release and abandon.

The Partita for Double String Orchestra is a much grimmer, more dour and sombre work than the folk-tune-inspired numbers which precede it, an effect, as the notes remark, emphasised by Boult’s almost ponderous treatment of the opening movement, but it is richly scored and even rapturous in parts, while both the Scherzo and finale are fleet and febrile. The playing of the LPO is of the highest standard.

We revert to a lighter-hearted mode with the Wasps suite – even if, despite the initial buzz (pun intended), the prevailing mood is more redolent of sea shanties than Attic Greece. Boult effortlessly encompasses both the Romantic surge and the spiky wit of the music; RVW surely here displays a certain kinship with Prokofiev in his ability to fuse disparate styles.

This compilation provides an enticing survey of what is mostly Vaughan Williams’ more insouciant output – although the Partita is hardly in the fun category and the centrepiece remains that substantial masterpiece, Job, which is anything but lightweight – so we have here an intriguing and highly entertaining admixture of compositional styles.

Ralph Moore

CD 1 (79:45)
1. Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (15:00)
Recorded 12 & 14-15 September 1953, Walthamstow Assembly Hall
Job - A Masque for Dancing
2. Scene 1: Introduction - Pastoral Dance - Satan's Appeal to God -
Saraband of the Sons of God (9:55)
3. Scene 2: Satan's Dance of Triumph (1:43)
4. Scene 3: Minuet of the Sons of Job and Their Wives (4:15)
5. Scene 4: Job's Dream - Dance of Plague, Pestilence, Famine and
Battle (4:28)
6. Scene 5: Dance of the Three Messengers 14:56)
7. Scene 6: Dance of Job's Comforters - Job's Curse - A Vision of
Satan (4:47)
8. Scene 7: Elihu's Dance of Youth and Beauty - Pavane of the Sons
of the Morning (5:27)
9. Scene 8: Galliard of the Sons of the Morning - Altar Dance and
Heavenly Pavane (5:01)
10. Scene 9: Epilogue (3:08)
Recorded 9 & 11-13 January 1954, Kingsway Hall, London
Old King Cole - Ballet
11. Introduction (3:30)
12. Pipe Dance (2:48)
13. Bowl Dance (1:22)
14. Morris Jig: 'Go and 'list for a sailor' (1:24)
15. Folk Song: 'Bold Young Farmer' (2:11)
16. Folk Tune: 'The Jolly Thresherman' (1:34)
17. General Dance (6:16)
Recorded 29 September 1953, Walthamstow Assembly Hall
CD 2 (73:33)
1. Fantasia on Greensleeves (5:02)
MS English Folk Song Suite
2. 1. March - 'Seventeen come Sunday' (3:24)
3. 2. lntermezzo - 'My Bonny Boy' (3:27)
4. 3. March - 'Folk Songs from Somerset' (3:44)
Recorded 12, 14-15 September 1953, Walthamstow Assembly Hall
5. Norfolk Rhapsody No. 1 (10:39)
Recorded 10-14 & 29 September 1953, Walthamstow Assembly Hall
Partita for Double String Orchestra*
6. 1st mvt. - Prelude (6:27)
7. 2nd mvt. - Scherzo Ostinato (4:26)
8. 3rd mvt. - lntermezzo (Homage to Henry Hall) (4:24)
9. 4th mvt. - Fantasia (6:22)
Recorded 12-13 November 1956, Kingsway Hall, London
The Wasps (Aristophanic Suite)
10. 1. Overture (10:04)
11. 2. Entr'acte (2:58)
12. 3. March past of the kitchen utensils (1:47)
13. 4. Entr'acte (4:32)
14. 5. Ballet and final Tableau (6:17)
Recorded 28-31 December 1953 & 1 January 1954, Kingsway Hall,
All mono recordings remastered into Ambient Stereo except*, originally
recorded in stereo

Published: October 12, 2022

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