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Vaughan Williams: The Pilgrim's Progress / Boult, Noble, Burrowes, Partridge

Williams,Vaughan / Boult,Adrian / Noble,John
Release Date: 04/03/2012 
Label:  Warner Classics   Catalog #: 29126   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Ralph Vaughan Williams
Performer:  John NobleChristopher KeyteRobert LloydJohn Carol Case,   ... 
Conductor:  Sir Adrian Boult
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic OrchestraLondon Philharmonic Choir
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

When this glowing performance of one of Vaughan Williams's most raptly beautiful works first appeared in 1972 as a centenary offering to the composer, I expressed the hope in these columns that the record would lead to more stage performances on both sides of the Atlantic. That hope, alas, has not been fulfilled, but hearing the opera again convinces me afresh that far from being loose-limbed, it is unusually concentrated musically. That Vaughan Williams drew from a whole series of Bunyan inspirations over 30 years has made for meatiness of material and little or no inconsistency of style. "They won't like it," predicted the composer after the first performance at Covent Garden. "They don't want an opera with no heroine and Read more no love duets—and I don't care. It's what I meant, and there it is." Though he described the work as a "morality", he was aggressively concerned that it should be treated as an opera, not as an oratorio. One can see what he meant. He wanted the work's strength and cohesion brought Out, not just its piety, but in truth precious little is lost from not having it staged, and the format of recording might well be counted as ideal, allowing the listener to picture his own staging. In my earlier review I suggested the Maltings at Snape as a place for a new production, and having just seen a brilliantly effective staging of Britten's Turn of the screw there with next to no scenery, I have to repeat the suggestion.

...[This recording] stands as one of the very finest of [Boult's] many records of Vaughan Williams's music, beautifully paced and textured with the fascinating references to the symphonies—not just No. 5 which took material from the previously written Act I but (at least by implication) Nos. 3, 4 and 7 as well, not to mention the Serenade to Music. In every way Vaughan Williams's Bunyan inspirations permeated his music, and this opera stands as their centre-point.

John Noble, who as a very young singer scored a great success in the 1954 Cambridge production, may not have the richest or most characterful baritone, but his dedication and understanding make for compelling results. Outstanding among the others are such singers as Sheila Armstrong, Ian Partridge, Norma Burrowes and John Shirley-Quirk. The chorus—subject of rather tough treatment from Boult as the old rehearsal excerpts suggested—sings with fervour, and the sound—with Christopher Bishop as recording producer and Christopher Parker as chief engineer using the always helpful London Kingsway Hall—remains first rate. I hope [this reissue] will...encourage many more lovers of English music, not just of Vaughan Williams, to get this set and appreciate a work undervalued for no better reason than that it fails to fit a recognized formula.

-- Gramophone [8/1983, reviewing an LP reissue of this recording]
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Works on This Recording

The Pilgrim's progress by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Performer:  John Noble (Baritone), Christopher Keyte (Bass), Robert Lloyd (Bass),
John Carol Case (Baritone), Ian Partridge (Tenor), Norma Burrowes (Soprano),
John Shirley-Quirk (Bass), Sheila Armstrong (Soprano), Raimund Herincx (Baritone)
Conductor:  Sir Adrian Boult
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra,  London Philharmonic Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1949/1952; England 
Language: English 

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