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Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
CD 1
Fantasia on Greensleeves (1934) [4:33]
Symphony No. 5 (1943) [40:36]
Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (1910) [16:00]
CD 2
Symphony No. 2 London (1913) [48:43]
The Lark Ascending (1920-21) [14:20]
Barry Griffiths (violin); Peter Cosham (violin); Andrew Williams (viola); Francois Rive (cello)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/André Previn
Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra/Leonard Slatkin (Greensleeves)
rec. Powell Symphony Hall, St Louis, 12 October 1982 (Greensleeves); Walthamstow Town Hall, 6-7 July 1988 (5, Tallis); Fairfield Hall, Croydon, 15-16 September 1986 (2, Lark). DDD
Everybody's Classics Series - Two for price of one.
TELARC 2CD-80738 [61:09 + 63:03]
Experience Classicsonline

The interloper here – though still welcome - is the Greensleeves Fantasia. Clearly, it has been inserted as a filler - good for you, Telarc! Slatkin and the Saint Louis band deliver an effective version which does not linger unduly. It is a more objective approach than we would have had from Previn or indeed from Barbirolli; very effective, too.

The other recordings are the RVW legacy of Previn's association with Telarc and the RPO between 1986 and 1988. His complete RCA/LSO set of the symphonies remains close to first choice despite its analogue recording dates between 1967 and 1972.

The main featured works on the present set are predominantly contemplative. They are rendered in rich Telarc sound which blesses the RPO's strings rather than stropping their cutting blade. You all too rarely hear the strings given such a beneficent accent. They glow rather than scythe through the scores. I am fairly sure I recall some first release criticism of these early recordings but I have only praise for this set and for the yielding spirituality Previn brings out. The inherent artistic strengths are accentuated by the two-for-one price and the convenient single width case.

If you have been curious about these versions then do not hold back. You might be put off by the clunky ‘Everybody's Vaughan Williams' title and the lack of liner-notes but you need to see past these superficial things. This is a great bargain. Previn recaptures all the spirituality and the rhythmic life of his earliest UK days.

The recordings are the work of James Mallinson, the ex-Decca house engineer. He capitalises magnificently on the Fairfield Hall and Walthamstow Town Hall acoustics. The quality of this recording and of Previn's breathtaking engagement can be heard in the quasi-niente string sound - just this side of silence at the start of the Fifth’s Romanza. Just as impressive is the even more familiar Tallis Fantasia where Previn opts to take the work a little faster than usual.

The recording really is stunning and dares much especially in the extremes of dynamic. These range upwards from a barely heard whisper which at one stage had me checking whether I had turned down the volume by accident. There is little difference between the two concert hall acoustics except perhaps for a stronger bass presence in the Fairfield Hall items. This can add just a slight hint of boom - perhaps depending on your listening end equipment.

Rob Barnett


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