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Steven Ritter
Audiophile Audition, November 2012

…the Piano Concerto…packs quite a wallop and should be far more welcome on today’s well-worn concert stages. The work gives immeasurable pleasure.

The Wasps (Aristophanic Suite) was…is a marvel to the ear.

Pianist Ashley Wass’…playing is suitably rugged when need be, negotiating the many technical hurdles that Vaughan Williams places in the way, yet able to reduce the size and scope needed to present the many lovely and quietly informative passages as well. James Judd is well known, one of the best conductors around, and the Royal Liverpool Band plays with suavity and a lot of tonal beauty. A very enjoyable disc indeed, recorded in Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall with great clarity and depth. © 2012 Audiophile Audition Read complete review



James Manishen
Winnipeg Free Press, February 2010

This is an outstanding Vaughan Williams release with vital, big-hearted performances and a vivid recording that shows the music in its best possible light.

The Piano Concerto, which premiered in 1933, is a fine work that never really found favour, likely due to its prickly temperament. The fugal Finale and opening Toccata evoke thoughts of the composer’s later Fourth Symphony, also unjustly neglected. A free-flowing Romanza is at the centre, with dustings of Ravel, who VW was so fond of.

The Wasps overflows with high spirits, as does the English Folk Song Suite and the dance-infused Running Set. Judd enlivens all, with especially pointed woodwind playing from the RLPO.



Julie Amacher
Minnesota Public Radio, February 2010

St. Paul, Minn.—After earning a degree from the Royal College of Music, English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams went to Berlin to study with Max Bruch. Then it was on to Paris for a little French polish with Maurice Ravel. But in the end, Vaughan Williams emerged as an adventurous, distinctive British voice. That was due in part to his tireless effort of searching for, transcribing and preserving English folk songs for most of his career. Later, he incorporated some of those songs and melodies in his own music. Several of those pieces appear on this new release with James Judd and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic.

The popular overture from “The Wasps” opens this new release. It’s part of a suite of incidental music Vaughan Williams composed for this farcical play by the ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes. Following the Overture are some lesser known movements, including the “March Past of the Kitchen Utensils.” In that movement a pot, a pestle and a water jug serve as witnesses on behalf of a dog accused of stealing. The wind section plays an earnest melody as the utensils offer their solemn testimony. Midway through, the mood suddenly becomes more joyful as the entire orchestra joins in on a lively folk dance. In the Ballet and Final Tableau three rivals of Aristophanes are forced to dance during a boisterous symphonic frolic led, once again, by the vibrant wind and brass section of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic.

Last year British pianist Ashley Wass made his debut at the BBC Proms in London performing Vaughan Williams’ magnificent piano concerto. It’s the first time this piece had been played there since 1939. When this work made its premiere, critics complained about the percussive piano part and its dissonant quality, but Ashley Wass really enjoys the physicality of this piece. He says the soloist is really fighting against the orchestra in this dramatic concerto, which draws the piano into its own musical texture. A major influence on this concerto was the Italian composer and pianist Ferruccio Busoni. He is remembered as a virtuoso pianist and for his transcriptions of Bach. We hear that influence especially in the driving toccata of the first movement. The soloist has more freedom and is completely exposed during the opening of the second movement. Here, Ashley Wass has the opportunity to alter the rhythm and the tempo as a single note is played over arpeggios. This is one of those rare concertos which has a soft, slow ending. It’s really quite beautiful to hear the music just magically disappear.

James Judd and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic close out this new release with “The Running Set.” This British dance once had its own original tune, to which it was danced, but that music was lost years ago, so Vaughan Williams combined several folk-songs long associated with the dance into one delightful continuous movement.

Ralph Vaughan Williams once said, “if the roots of your art are firmly planted in your own soil and that soil has anything individual to give you, you may still gain the whole world and not lose your own soul.” He cultivated that approach in his own music-making, creating works unique to his English roots. That musical soul is brought to life in a fun, artistic way on this musical retrospective with James Judd and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. On this new release, you’ll delight in the composer’s folk songs, theatre music and his only piano concerto.



Malcolm Hayes
Classic FM, January 2010

Ashley Wass delivers the solo part with impressive command and the orchestra’s playing everywhere has brilliant colour and focus. Outstanding recorded sound.



Malcolm Hayes
BBC Music Magazine, December 2009

Wass’s commanding way with the solo part is beautifully poised…James Judd secures orchestral accompaniments of brilliant colour and focus…The recorded sound, too, finds an ideal balance between capturing precise detail and the broader spaces around it.



Piers Burton-Page
International Record Review, December 2009

[The Piano Concerto] receives passionate endorsement from Wass…and the commitment from the RLPO, too, is palpable…the Concerto is rightly the centrepiece here, and approving VW enthusiasts will naturally want this for their shelves……Andrew Burn provides an exemplary note.




Edward Greenfield
Gramophone, December 2009

The Piano Concerto is revealed as the harbinger of VW’s mature style

The Piano Concerto of Vaughan Williams has been seriously undervalued, from the unsuccessful first performance onwards. It is true that the writing for the soloist could hardly be less pianistic, thick with notes. That is what led the composer to sanction a version for two pianos and orchestra, though latterly pianists have found the original fur less daunting than was originally thought.

Written in the mid-1920s, it looks forward in many ways to the radical developments in the composer’s style which erupted in the ballet music for Job and above all in the abrasive Fourth Symphony. Early critics complained about its dissonance but that is hardly likely to worry anyone today; and a performance as fine as this one from Ashley Wass will simply have one marvelling at the originality of the piece and its distinctive slant on the idea of a piano concerto.

This fine performance, superbly recorded in clean, perfectly balanced sound, brings up some strange, unexpected echoes, as for example in the finale there is a hint of Ravel’s La valse. One point that may help to explain the work’s failure to be appreciated is that instead of ending with a bang, as most piano concertos do, it fades down to nothing, surprising one that it has finished. None the less Wass, James Judd and the RLPO carry that off most effectively.

The other works on the disc make an attractive programme, with the five movements of the suite from VWs incidental music to The Wasps, introduced by its superb overture, crisply presented. Gordon Jacob’s arrangement of the brief English Folk Song Suite makes a colourful filler, rounded off with a piece in a similar folky vein, The Running Set. Naxos again offers a disc of the highest quality at superbudget price.



Michael Barone
Minnesota Public Radio, November 2009

Prize-winner Ashley Wass (the first ‘exclusive’ artist to be signed by Naxos) is a splendid young talent, and the VW Concerto is much better than its general neglect would have you imagine. The slow movement Romanze, in particular, is as lovely as anything from this composer and, following the muscular fugue-and-dance finale, the hushed conclusion is delicious and haunting. And the ‘Royal Liverpool Sound’ wins hands down, too.



Geoffrey Norris
The Daily Telegraph (Australia), November 2009

Vaughan Williams’s Piano Concerto receives a powerful and at time poignant performance from Wass and the RLPO…worth hearing.






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