Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Friday, May 4, 2018

The Dominion Strikes Back

Ralph Vaughan Williams: Serenade to Music; Oboe Concerto; Flos Campi; Piano Concerto

The world of Ralph Vaughan Williams seems still to be overwhelmingly, if not exclusively, British. The vast majority of recordings today hail from the British Isles, with very few from major American or Continental orchestras or conductors, much less those farther afield. The English Pastoral tradition, the music of the Tudors and the Anglican choral tradition, and the whole range of folk music of the British Isles, come together to build the engine that drives Vaughan Williams' reputation. Those of us who love Vaughan Williams, and I'm sure there are as many today around the world as there ever were, look to the English record companies to keep new albums coming in the Vaughan Williams pipeline.  Chandos in particular has a very deep and broad VW catalogue. It's great to see this superb new disc, to be released on June 1, 2018, coming from Toronto, played and sung by Canadian musicians, and one of the top Vaughan Williams discs in recent memory.

Toronto-born conductor Peter Oundjian, who will become the Toronto Symphony's Conductor Emeritus at the end of the current season, has put together a programme that shows off some of Vaughan Williams' many strengths. After 15 years with the orchestra, he has everything moving at the highest level, like clockwork, from strings to winds to brass and percussion. Two principals from the orchestra, oboist Sarah Jeffrey and violist Teng Li, provide star-soloist level work in the profoundly hopeful Oboe Concerto from 1944 and the sensuous, mystical Flos Campi from the mid-1920s. The latter work features one of the world's great choirs, the Elmer Iseler Singers, a Toronto fixture for nearly 40 years. The choir, along with a strong quartet of solo singers, also elevates the Serenade to Music, from 1938. This is a tour de force of orchestral, choral and solo vocal music, one of the composer's greatest works. The Toronto musicians come together here to provide the most impressive version I've heard on disc. The French-Canadian soloist Louis Lortie, whose own Chandos discography is also distinguished in both depth and breadth, has the virtuoso technique to handle the uncharacteristically hard-edged, blunt piano writing in the Piano Concerto, from 1932. This is a sparkling, brightly lit performance, accompanied by the same controlled fireworks from the orchestra. Both soloist and orchestra are meltingly romantic, of course, in the middle movement Romanza. More top-level Vaughan Williams!

This is a well-filled CD, but unfortunately there isn't room for two works that opened (Fantasia on Greensleeves) and closed (Wasps Overture) the two November 2017 concerts at Roy Thomson Hall recorded for this album. Perhaps Chandos or the TSO could provide one or both as audio or video bonuses on their websites. Fingers crossed!

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