, October 2008
It commendably covers different aspects of the composer's writing—vocal and orchestral, for cinema, on religious themes, symphonies, songs. It includes what are probably his best-known works, but as a survey of his output it has some limitations—in particular by not representing sufficiently the remarkable work of his last decade. …Notwithstanding, some of these performances are of sufficient merit in themselves to justify the purchase of this budget disk. In particular, I would commend Roderick Williams' performance of "Linden Lea", which is a real delight—his voice being very well suited to the music. The singing of "Silent Noon", by the tenor Anthony Rolfe Johnson accompanied by Graham Johnson on piano, is also excellent.
This is followed by another track which I particularly liked, an extract from "Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus", performed by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. The RLPO Orchestra have made a number of commendable recordings of the works of Vaughan Williams under the recently deceased and perhaps under-appreciated Vernon Handley, a great champion of English music of the first half of the 20th century. This work sets a folk-tune which is also the setting of a well-known hymn and then goes on to develop it through variations.
Slightly oddly placed halfway through the disc is a very enjoyable performance of 'The Wasps' overture by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Vaughan Williams wrote this to accompany a theatrical performance of the Aristophanes play in its original Greek at Cambridge. Its opening is particularly excellent here, and in my opinion it would have made a better first track than the extract used in this position of the 49th Parallel Prelude, which is marred somewhat by its sound quality.
The well-known 'Fantasia on a theme of Thomas Tallis'…is given a very slow but thoughtful and pleasant performance by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra who later in the disk perform the also well-known and loved 'Fantasia on Greensleeves', although this I found again pleasant but somewhat unexciting.
Vaughan Williams' symphonic output is acknowledged through the not entirely representative choice of extracts from his first and second symphonies, tracks eight and four of the disc respectively. The London Symphony (number two), arguably a good choice in being a characteristic and well evolved work relatively early in the composer's working life, is represented by part of its first movement. The performance here, by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, is very slow and I have to say I do not like it as much overall as the Liverpudlian recording of this work under Vernon Handley. However as the track progress, the "jig" section evolves well and would show the listener new to Vaughan Williams some of his most typical end enjoyable music. …'The Lark Ascending', again a very well known and popular work, closes the disc.