The second release in ClassicO's British Symphonic Collection gathers one
of Vaughan Williams' masterpieces and two shorter works of which one receives,
as far as I am aware, its first commercial recording and the other one of
its rare performances.
RVW's late Variations for Brass also exist in a version for symphonic wind
orchestra by Donald Hunsberger (Sony MK 44916) and the present version for
orchestra by Gordon Jacob.
Prelude on an Old Carol Tune (1951) started its life as incidental music
to a BBC broadcast of Thomas Hardy's novel The Mayor of Casterbridge. RVW
rescued and arranged some of the music. This short piece based principally
on a variant of the carol On Christmas Night is again some sort of fantasia
roughly on the same model as other similar pieces in his output. On the whole
it is an engaging work well worth having.
The main work here is of course Job - A Masque for Dancing which is one of
RVW's greatest masterpieces. The piece is well-known enough to need any
particular comments. Suffice it to say that this powerful work shows a
considerable stylistic advance on its predecessors and hints at a more radical
approach which was to show in the Piano Concerto and - more importantly -
in the Fourth and Sixth Symphonies. Though I confess that I approached it
with some apprehension (for this is no easy work) I may now say that the
present performance is very fine indeed. The slower sections are generally
more successful. The Dance of the Three Messengers in particular gets a searingly
beautiful reading. The more dynamic episodes may seem slightly less satisfying
in that rhythms might generally be more pointed. (This may be due to some
extent to the acoustics.) Nevertheless this is on the whole a very fine reading
though my first choice is still Handley's magnificent recording (EMI Eminence
All in all a very fine release that is worth considering, the more so that
it presents a first recording of a lesser-known work and a quite good one
of the not-so-well-known Variations for Orchestra. Such brave ventures are
to be warmly encouraged.
See also reviews by Rob Barnett and David Wright