Notes and Editorial Reviews
With this celebratory release completing his fourteen-year tenure as Music Director of the TSO, Peter Oundjian conducts an exquisite Vaughan Williams programme, supported by an all-Canadian cast of star soloists. In the program notes of the concert preceding the recording, Oundjian declared: “Ralph Vaughan Williams was possibly England’s most significant composer, and he is a personal favorite of mine. This [recording] presents some of his finest works, featuring soloists from the Orchestra as well as some of Canada’s most notable solo artists, and the Elmer Iseler Singers. The lyrical and engaging Oboe Concerto is rarely heard, but it is one of his most inspired works. Serenade to Music showcases his exquisite vocal writing, which also figures prominently in the ravishingly beautiful Flos Campi, so surprisingly scored for solo viola, choir, and chamber orchestra. The Piano Concerto is more dramatic, with a juggernaut opening and a brilliant fugal finale.”
The Chandos catalogue already boasts a superb performance of the Piano Concerto by Howard Shelley, coupled with the Ninth Symphony in Bryden Thompson’s rather forgotten yet quite brilliant series. Canadian pianist Louis Lortie is outstanding in this new performance.
Listeners should pay keen attention to this beautiful performance by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s principal oboe, Sarah Jeffrey. She is absolutely in sympathy with the music, producing a most pleasing tone, and is in complete command of the work’s technical demands.
Serenade to Music was originally composed for sixteen solo voices. The composer conceived the work for particular singers whose solo passages are marked with their initials in the score, but he was always keen to adapt works in order to secure performances. This performance uses just four soloists alongside the admirable Elmer Iseler Singers, a group of twenty or so voices. Thus, the soprano, for example, sings solo passages that were originally assigned to four different singers and, no doubt, tailored to each particular voice. I expected to miss the change of vocal quality from one phrase to another, but in the end this didn’t bother me at all, perhaps because the soloists are so distinguished. Peter Oundjian’s pacing of the work is ideal, and the sounds he coaxes from his excellent orchestra are as ravishing as they should be in this work.
Teng Li is the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s principal viola player, and she plays Flos Campi as if it really means something to her. She produces a rich, nourished tone and plays the more robust passages without the slightest suggestion of roughness. Her viola really speaks, her playing richly communicative. The choir is excellent, the orchestra too, and by careful attention to Vaughan Williams’s markings, Oundjian achieves something very special.
Peter Oundjian’s work in Toronto was marked by a number of recordings of Vaughan Williams symphonies on the orchestra’s own label. Here, on Chandos, he treats us to a mouth-watering programme that more than deserves a place in any Vaughan Williams collection.
– MusicWeb International
The solo playing by Toronto Symphony principal Teng Li offers deep weight of tone, rapturous phrasing, and a musical personality that mesmerises the ear; the choral singing is superbly focused and (easier said than done) flawlessly in tune, with a classy orchestral accompaniment to match. Sarah Jeffrey (also a Toronto principal) is at first less impressive in the Oboe Concerto, her playing increasingly searches out the music’s poignant heart, memorably so in the finale.
– BBC Music Magazine