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Vaughan Williams: Flos Campi, Viola Suite, McEwen: Viola Concerto / Brabbins, Power, BBC Orchestra Of Wales

Vaughan Williams / Mcewen / Power / Brabbins
Release Date: 11/08/2011 
Label:  Hyperion   Catalog #: 67839  
Composer:  Ralph Vaughan WilliamsJohn McEwen
Performer:  Lawrence Power
Conductor:  Martyn Brabbins
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC National Orchestra of WalesBBC National Chorus of Wales
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Power's playing is wonderfully varied, at times delicate and poetical, at others broad, passionate and generous. This is especially so in the case of the two works by Vaughan Williams. A must-have for all lovers of Vaughan Williams and British music in general.

– Gramophone [12/2011]



VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Suite for Viola and Small Orchestra. Flos Campi. McEWEN Read more Viola Concerto Lawrence Power (va); Martyn Brabbins, cond; BBC Natl O; Ch of Wales HYPERION CDA67839 (76:37)

This album provides us with three works premiered by the great violist Lionel Tertis, who was understandably an enthusiastic promoter of music for his sadly neglected instrument.

Nothing needs be said about Flos Campi , a work that saw its debut in 1925, and remains deservedly popular to this day. However, it’s a pity that Vaughan Williams’s 1934 Suite for Viola and Small Orchestra isn’t better known. Not the least of its charms is a subtle but expressive application of orchestral color that demonstrates what the composer could achieve in this vein when he wished to do so. The suite’s eight movements are varied in character, though always light; the second movement, “Carol,” reveals a wonderfully tender, folklike melody that isn’t a folk theme at all, but a nation’s musical genius made manifest through the lens of a great musician.

McEwen’s 1901 Viola Concerto is likely to prove the greatest curiosity on this album, as there are no other recordings of it in the catalog. I’d hoped for something individual from the piece, given some familiarity with a range of the composer’s other works across a series of Chandos releases, but those expectations were only fitfully met. The lengthy (14:39) first movement feels overloaded with detail, a case of the many parts being greater than the sum. Personal touches of thematic angularity and development that would lend much character to his fine series of 19 string quartets seem to actually get in the way here of the music, rather than assisting its progress. The central Allegretto grazioso is the most distinctive thing in the concerto: a half-mocking, half-nostalgic dance that invokes the minuet and waltz at different times, with deftly ornamenting winds surrounding the soloist’s serene melodic explorations. The finale is hearty but unmemorable, one of those bustling movements filled with unfocused energy.

There’s nothing unfocused about these performances, though. Martyn Brabbins is in energetic and stylish form, while Lawrence Power’s combination of discipline, insight, and tonal suavity make for delightful listening. The BBC National Orchestra of Wales is technically expert, restrained but achingly lovely in the Vaughan Williams. Get this for Power, for the Vaughan Williams, and for the central movement to McEwen’s concerto.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal

The two Vaughan Williams works for viola and orchestra, the Suite and Flos Campi, are two of the most characterful and imaginative of all 20th century concertante works for any instrument. Both are unaccountably neglected, Flos Campi simply because it’s so unusual in both mood and in its requirement for a wordless chorus throughout, and the Suite, well, who knows? Maybe because it’s a suite and not a formal concerto. The music is delightful, Lawrence Power is an exceptionally fine soloist, and the accompaniments are excellent. The choir sings (or vocalizes) very well too, although the recording, clear and ideally balanced, is also just a touch dry and lacking in atmosphere. Still, it’s great to have these two works available on the same CD.

John McEwen’s Viola Concerto, which dates from the early years of the 20th century, falls very much into the Parry/Stanford English conservative romantic school. It’s quite substantial, lasting longer than half an hour, and like so many late-romantic concertos it has a completely dysfunctional first movement in which several attractive ideas, including a main theme in a quasi-Habanera rhythm, follow one another with scant regard for why anything happens before (or after) anything else. If we ignore this problem the music is thoroughly enjoyable, and McEwen has no issues in dealing with the formally simpler slow movement and finale, which are touching and lots of fun, respectively. Once again, it would be difficult to imagine more persuasive advocacy than the music receives here from both soloist and conductor.

-- ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

Suite for Viola and Chamber Orchestra by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Performer:  Lawrence Power (Viola)
Conductor:  Martyn Brabbins
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1934; England 
Flos campi by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Performer:  Lawrence Power (Viola)
Conductor:  Martyn Brabbins
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC National Orchestra of Wales,  BBC National Chorus of Wales
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1925; England 
Concerto for Viola by John McEwen
Performer:  Lawrence Power (Viola)
Conductor:  Martyn Brabbins
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC National Orchestra of Wales

Featured Sound Samples

Suite for Viola & Chamber Orchestra (Vaughan Williams): Group 3, No 2: Polka mélancolique
Flos Campi (Vaughan Williams): VI. Moderato tranquillo

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