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Vaughan Williams: Tallis Fantasia; Greensleeves; The Lark Ascending

20th Century Classics: Vaughan Williams - The Lark
Release Date: 08/10/2010 
Label:  Emi Classics   Catalog #: 27910   Spars Code: ADD 
Composer:  Ralph Vaughan Williams
Performer:  Sarah ChangChristopher BalmerIan PartridgeDavid Willison,   ... 
Conductor:  Sir John BarbirolliVernon HandleyBernard HaitinkSir David Willcocks,   ... 
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Early Music Group
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 2 Hours 36 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

For anyone starting out upon a Vaughan Williams collection, it would be hard to better this EMI compilation of classic recordings reissued at bargain price.

For anyone starting out upon a Vaughan Williams collection, it would be hard to better this EMI compilation of classic recordings reissued at bargain price. The recordings span a period of more than thirty years but they are all impressive as sheer sound; in fact the re-masterings make them sound better than ever. And the artists are all figures closely associated with this repertoire, who have set benchmarks in their interpretations.

The earliest of the recordings open the first disc. Sir John Barbirolli recorded the Fantasia on a Theme by
Read more Thomas Tallis and the Fantasia on Greensleeves back in 1962, but the recordings sound wonderfully atmospheric and resonant, while the performances are beautifully judged. Vernon Handley, whose still recent death was such a tragic loss to English music in particular, conducts both The Wasps Overture and that extraordinarily intense masterpiece Flos Campi, in which the relationship between the subtle orchestral textures and the evocative wordless chorus is represented by a beautifully atmospheric recording perspective.

The most recent of these performances was recorded by the young Sarah Chang with the London Philharmonic and Bernard Haitink in 1994. The Lark Ascending demands the utmost sensitivity of the solo violinist and Chang’s pure tone is heard to fine effect. The pacing of the interpretation is tauter and less lingering than some performances – for example Hugh Bean (EMI) and David Greed (Naxos) – but it remains valid and wholly pleasing.

It is good to have a representative performance conducted by Sir David Willcocks, another artist who has been a great servant to this composer over the years. Conducting the Jacques Orchestra in 1968 in the Chapel of Trinity College Cambridge, he uses the resonant acoustic to maximum effect, and the relationship between string orchestra and harp is atmospherically captured.

This compilation covers many aspects of Vaughan Williams’s musical personality, though it is not intended as a representative study of the whole of his creative work. The so-called Norfolk Rhapsody No. 1, the only survivor of an intended collection of three such pieces, uses folk songs in an imaginative orchestral context, and Boult’s performance is finely balanced in every way.

The remaining items are all vocal. Recorded in 1970, the version of On Wenlock Edge by the Music Group of London and Ian Partridge can stand comparison with any of the many subsequent performances, both artistically and sonically. From 1974 there are songs from another great tenor, the late Anthony Rolfe Johnson, accompanied by David Willison. Silent Noon is among the most powerful of the composer’s early works, dating from 1903 when he had just turned thirty. Vaughan Williams was a late developer and made his major breakthrough with the Sea Symphony and when he was aged 38. Rolfe Johnson and Willison also perform the distinctive cycle Songs of Travel, composed the year after Silent Noon.

Vaughan Williams composed his Serenade to Music as a tribute to the great conductor Sir Henry Wood, at whose Golden Jubilee Concert in October 1938 it was premiered. The music’s qualities of lyric beauty surely derived from the text he chose to set, taken from the scene in Portia's garden in Act V of The Merchant of Venice. The conception was also remarkable for its choice of forces: sixteen solo singers, each of whom had been closely associated with Sir Henry as their careers had developed. In due course the composer made both choral and orchestral versions in order to facilitate performances, but it is the original version, as recorded here, that serves the concept best. Under the direction of Sir Adrian Boult in 1969, sixteen top singers of the day, many among them still household names to music-lovers today, give a memorable performance that does full justice to one of the most beautiful works Vaughan Williams ever created.

-- Terry Barfoot, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Conductor:  Sir John Barbirolli
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1910/1919; England 
Date of Recording: 05/17/1962 
Venue:  Temple Church, London 
Length: 16 Minutes 20 Secs. 
Fantasia on Greensleeves by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Conductor:  Sir John Barbirolli
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1934; England 
Venue:  Kingsway Hall, London 
Length: 4 Minutes 47 Secs. 
The wasps: Overture by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Conductor:  Vernon Handley
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1909; England 
Venue:  St. Augustine's Church, Kilburn, London 
Length: 10 Minutes 13 Secs. 
The lark ascending by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Performer:  Sarah Chang (Violin)
Conductor:  Bernard Haitink
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1914/1920; England 
Venue:  No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London 
Length: 13 Minutes 37 Secs. 
Flos campi by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Performer:  Christopher Balmer (Viola)
Conductor:  Vernon Handley
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1925; England 
Date of Recording: 09/1986 
Venue:  Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool 
Length: 22 Minutes 24 Secs. 
Variants (5) of 'Dives and Lazarus' by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Conductor:  Sir David Willcocks
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1939; England 
Date of Recording: 07/31/1968 
Venue:  Chapel of Trinity College, Cambridge 
Length: 11 Minutes 25 Secs. 
Norfolk Rhapsody no 1 in E minor by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Conductor:  Sir Adrian Boult
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1905-1906; England 
Date of Recording: 01/23/1968 
Venue:  No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London 
Length: 10 Minutes 20 Secs. 
On Wenlock Edge by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Performer:  Ian Partridge ()
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Early Music Group
Period: 20th Century 
Written: England 
Venue:  No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London 
Length: 3 Minutes 53 Secs. 
House of life: no 2, Silent Noon by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Performer:  David Willison (Piano), Anthony [Tenor Vocal] Rolfe Johnson ()
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1903; England 
Date of Recording: 1974 
Venue:  Nornsey Town Hall 
Length: 5 Minutes 9 Secs. 
Songs of travel by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Performer:  Anthony [Tenor Vocal] Rolfe Johnson (), David Willison (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1901-1904; England 
Date of Recording: 1974 
Venue:  Nornsey Town Hall 
Length: 25 Minutes 6 Secs. 
Serenade to music by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Performer:  Ian Partridge (), Kenneth Bowen (), John Carol Case (),
Richard Angas (), Christopher Keyte (), Bernard Dickerson (),
John Noble (), Sheila Armstrong (), Norma Burrowes (),
Marie Hayward (), Susan Longfield (), Wynford Evans ()
Conductor:  Sir Adrian Boult
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1938; England 
Date of Recording: 11/05/1969 
Venue:  Kingsway Hall, London 
Length: 13 Minutes 14 Secs. 

Sound Samples

Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (2000 Digital Remaster)
Fantasia on 'Greensleeves' (2000 Digital Remaster)
The Wasps - Aristophanic Suite: I. Overture
The Lark Ascending
Flos campi
Five Variants of 'Dives and Lazarus'
Norfolk Rhapsody No. 1
On Wenlock Edge: I. On Wenlock Edge
On Wenlock Edge: II. From far, from eve and morning
On Wenlock Edge: III. Is my team ploughing?
On Wenlock Edge: IV. Oh, when I was in love with you
On Wenlock Edge: V. Bredon Hill
On Wenlock Edge: VI. Clun
The House of Life: II. Silent Noon
Songs of Travel: I. The Vagabond
Songs of Travel: II. Let beauty awake
Songs of Travel: III. The Roadside Fire
Songs of Travel: IV. Youth and Love
Songs of Travel: V. In Dreams
Songs of Travel: VI. The infinite shining heavens
Songs of Travel: VII. Whither must I wander
Songs of Travel: VIII. Bright is the ring of words
Songs of Travel: IX. I have trod the upward and the downward slope
Serenade to Music (original version with 16 soloists)

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