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Reviews from other months
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Overture; The Poisoned Kiss; Overture The Wasps; 2 Hymn Tune Preludes; The Running Set; Flos Campi; Suite for viola and orchestra; Sea Songs; Three Songs from The House of Life; Six Studies in English Folksong; Romance for harmonica and strings; Linden Lea; Fantasia on Greensleeves; Serenade to Music.  Various artistes Chandos 2for1 set CHAN 241-9 [70' 02" and 55' 43"].




There is no doubt that Vaughan Williams is Britain's finest composer in the tonal tradition. His nine symphonies are all different and fascinating in their own special way. Symphonies 4, 5 and 6 are masterpieces and Chandos' recordings under Bryden Thomson are not only the finest performances, being accurate to the composers intentions, but I cannot see how they can ever be equalled let alone surpassed.

Vaughan Williams Overture: The Wasps is a deservedly popular piece and is here given a good performance although the tempo is slightly too slow for my taste. There a couple of uncomfortable moments but the sound, particularly that of the high strings and harp is exquisite. Both Sir Adrian Boult and Bryden Thomson's respective versions are superior in their rhythmic drive and overall sound but this version with the LPO under Vernon Handley is quite acceptable even though it lacks the thrust of his two rivals mentioned above.

Vaughan Williams composed some of the most beautiful music ever written. The Serenade to Music is one such example. Here we have the orchestral version with LPO and Handley and, while I prefer the version with sixteen singers this performance is simply marvellous with a very appealing valedictory feel about it. Perhaps the tempo is a little on the slow side occasionally, particularly at the passage which begins with the eight-note trumpet motif ... but it is a glorious sound. One does not usually speak of Vaughan Williams' as a great orchestrator, but he was.

A wonderful example of Englishness is the Fantasia on Greensleeves, particularly when Englishness is not promoted today. The Welsh, Scots and Northern Irish maintain their nationality, and rightly so, but the English do not. The BBC Philharmonic give a loving and warm account under Vernon Handley again. Another example of Englishness is the song Linden Lea, here arranged by Arthur Somerville for choir and performed by the Huddersfield Choral Society under Brian Kay who takes it rather quickly. It needs a broader canvas and I hate the choral accompaniment to the last melody note of the final verse which cheapens it. It is far better for a solo singer.

Tommy Reilly enjoys himself in the Romance for harmonica and strings ably supported by the Academy of St. Martins in the Fields and Neville Marriner. It is a curious piece and the recorded sound is a little harsh.

Maurice Johnstone is the orchestrator of the Three Songs from the House of Life sung by Stephen Varcoe with the City of London Sinfonia under Richard Hickox. As with Linden Lea they fare better in their original form. Varcoe has a splendid voice and is an inspired choice for these sumptuous songs. Again the Englishness of Gurney, Quilter and Eric Coates come to mind. The song, Silent Noon is so perfectly sung that it could move you to tears. Flos Campi for viola, chorus and orchestra is a work I loved deeply until I heard Sir David Willcock's recording of it. Not only did he have boy sopranos and male altos but an aggravating fussiness that two distinguished composers Ruth Gipps and Gerard Victory described as 'naff' and 'grossly ill-conceived'! Here, Frederick Riddle, the Bournemouth Sinfonietta and choir under Norman Del Mar restored my love for the this piece and over-turned the unjust death sentence that Willcocks gave it.

This score is a strikingly original piece. Good as this performance is, I feel that the chorus is sometimes a little too far back but there is so much to comment it. The alla marcia's choral entry is stunning. It is marvellous human work. It has a passion that will evoke a warm cathartic response from all true music lovers. Riddle, Bournemouth and Del Mar give a thoughtful account of the Suite for viola and orchestra, a pleasant but often simply-constructed work. The first section, or group one as it is called, is of three pieces, a prelude, a charming carol and Christmas Dance which is rugged for its title. Group 2 begins with a ballad which is an attractive piece and this followed by a moto perpetuo in which the violist displays his skill.

Group 3 begins with a musette noted for some interesting accompaniment and ends with a gallop which shows Vaughan Williams's admiration of Bartók. Here the Englishness gives was to Eastern Europe. A very curious polka comes between. There is a rather hybrid work. I am not sure that all eight pieces 'belong' together.

Sea Songs could be a misleading title as it is a quick march but as it is based on three naval songs. I suppose the title makes sense ... eventually. Originally written for military band the Bournemouth Sinfonietta under George Hurst play it here with verve. The same forces give us The Running Set a short vigorous work, sometimes corny, based on traditional dance tunes. They also perform Two Hymn-tune preludes, the two tunes being Eventide (Abide with me) and Dominus Regit Me (The King of Love My Shepherd is). My experience is that music lovers do not warm to this type of music and ask inane questions such as "Why don't we hear all the tune?" and "Why has he changed it?"

George Hurst does the best he can with the Overture: The Poisoned Kiss but overture it is not, but rather a suite. It has a good start but becomes ordinary and seems to end up at a circus rehearsal.

I have saved the best until last. The superb clarinettist Janet Hilton, accompanied by Keith Swallow perform the Six Studies in English Folksong and quite brilliantly. What a sensual velvet tone and what sparkling clarity Janet gives us and what lovely English music it is.

The recordings are reissues of performances originating from between 1975 - 1989 and are generally good.


David Wright

Performances to (Varcoe)



David Wright




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