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Arcadia Lost

Britten / Williams / Sydney So / Wigglesworth
Release Date: 08/14/2012 
Label:  Melba   Catalog #: 301131   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Ralph Vaughan WilliamsBenjamin Britten
Performer:  Michael DauthSteve Davislim
Conductor:  Mark Wigglesworth
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Sydney Symphony OrchestraCantillationHamer String Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

VAUGHAN WILLIAMS The Lark Ascending 1. Flos Campi 2. On Wenlock Edge 3. BRITTEN Sinfonia da Requiem Mark Wigglesworth, cond; 1 Michael Dauth (vn); 2 Roger Benedict (va); 3 Steve Davislim (tenor); Read more class="SUPER12">3 Benjamin Martin (pn); 2 Cantillation; 3 Hamer Qrt; Sydney SO MELBA MR301131 (74:17 Text and Translation)

This album is titled Arcadia Lost ; presumably this is meant to indicate some overall connection between the four works presented here as representing in various ways the passing of an idyllic bygone era for which hearts still yearn. However, there is no explanation provided in the booklet notes, and the Britten Sinfonia is certainly the musical odd man out here. No matter, for while not one of the individual selections is a first choice for that particular work, the whole nonetheless offers a very satisfying program of pieces well played.

Much beloved, The Lark Ascending has dozens of recordings in print. Here, Michael Dauth is an excellent soloist, playing with liquid beauty of tone and soulful commitment. If this recording does not quite equal such classic accounts as those by Hugh Bean, Adrian Boult, and the New Philharmonia on EMI, or Iona Brown, Neville Marriner, and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields on Decca (my favorite), it is because the orchestral accompaniment is a little too reticent. Still, this is a very winning performance overall.

Flos Campi is the work that comes off most strongly in this set; while the recorded competition is less stiff here, this is nonetheless a first-rate version that captures by turns the elegiac and sensuous elements of this masterly but too-little-performed score. Violist Roger Benedict renders a languorous, buttery rendition of the solo part, interweaving adroitly with principal oboist Diana Doherty, while Cantillation (recorded rather up close) contributes top-notch choral singing. If perhaps not quite on the superlative level of either Christopher Balmer, Vernon Handley, and the Royal Liverpool Chorus and Orchestra on EMI, or Philip Dukes, Richard Hickox, and the Northern Sinfonia on Chandos (reviewed by Royal S. Brown in Fanfare 19:3; in 28:5 Barry Brenesal endorsed both the Handley and Hickox versions in a review of the Naxos recording with Paul Daniel and the Bournemouth Symphony), this is still among the best and very much worth acquiring.

By contrast, On Wenlock Edge receives here a solid but not exceptional reading. Tenor Steve Davislim has a secure voice, without the unsteady top that mars the soloists in several other recordings, and pianist Benjamin Martin and the Hamer Quartet (apparently making its recording debut with this disc) provide able support. However, they simply do not dig into this mercurial music in the manner of their superior rivals—John Mark Ainsley and the Nash Ensemble (Hyperion), James Gilchrist and the Fitzwilliam Quartet (Linn), or Ian Partridge and the Music Group of London (EMI). I commented upon the latter three in more detail in 33:6, in a review of a recording featuring tenor James Griffett.

The Sinfonia da Requiem— placed after Flos Campi but before On Wenlock Edge on the CD—obtains the least distinguished reading, relatively speaking. The performance is sincere but again somewhat low-key, lacking the full measure of anguished passion found in studio accounts by the composer and the National Philharmonic (Decca), Richard Hickox and the London Symphony (Chandos), André Previn and the London Symphony (EMI), Simon Rattle and the Birmingham Symphony (EMI), or the live monaural broadcast recording with the composer and the Southwest German Radio Symphony that I reviewed in 34:5.

Mark Wigglesworth and the Sydney Symphony acquit themselves admirably in all the orchestral works. The recorded sound has great depth and presence, and remarkably also the kind of subtle defining background ambience that one associates with LPs; unfortunately I was not able to sample the SACD recording layer. The digipak comes with an exceptionally attractive booklet with notes on the music in English, French, and German, plus the song texts and notes on the performers (including the complete roster of the orchestra) in English, illustrated with numerous color photos. If, in particular, you want additional versions of The Lark Ascending or Flos Campi for your collection, or if you want these works on SACD, or just wish to introduce these works to someone not familiar with them, this is a worthwhile choice.

FANFARE: James A. Altena
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Works on This Recording

The lark ascending by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Performer:  Michael Dauth (Violin)
Conductor:  Mark Wigglesworth
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Sydney Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1914/1920; England 
Flos campi by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Conductor:  Mark Wigglesworth
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Sydney Symphony Orchestra,  Cantillation
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1925; England 
On Wenlock Edge by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Performer:  Steve Davislim (Tenor)
Conductor:  Mark Wigglesworth
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Sydney Symphony Orchestra,  Hamer String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: England 
Sinfonia da Requiem, Op. 20 by Benjamin Britten
Conductor:  Mark Wigglesworth
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Sydney Symphony Orchestra,  Cantillation
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1940; England 

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