Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
In the Fen Country Symphonic Impression
Norfolk Rhapsody No.1
On Wenlock Edge *
The Lark Ascending **
Ian Bostridge (tenor) *
Sarah Chang (violin) **
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Recorded between 1986 and 1997 at No.1 Studio, Abbey Road, London, and the Colosseum, Watford
CD No: EMI 5851512 Duration: Reviewed: December 2003
Vaughan Williams Shorts Bernard Haitink (EMI)
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
Its a good idea to put the off-cuts from Bernard Haitinks Vaughan Williams cycle on to a single CD. No doubt, now, the symphonies themselves will be boxed (for the conductors 75th-birthday next year), which will be an ideal time to re-assess his view of these great pieces that, maybe, hasnt yet settled into the critical mind.
This wont necessarily affect the collector with all the single CDs of symphony releases, for all these short pieces are there as fill-ups, if one can really so-call this wonderful music in this term. This mid-price release contains two masterpieces (at least), the Tallis Fantasia, conducted spaciously and with just enough distance (emotionally and acoustically) to enhance the across the centuries nature of the piece. The other is The Lark Ascending, Sarah Changs soaring account now seems more inspired than when first heard on the original pressing. Theres spontaneity here, and a conscious awareness that this music is no mere pastoral ramble, which compels attention; Haitinks flowing yet meaningful tempos and tempo relationships are astutely judged, which suggests this performance as altogether closer in stature to the definitive Hugh Bean/Boult reading (also EMI).
The glorious Norfolk Rhapsody is evocative and eloquently shaped, although Haitink yields a little in the dance rhythms to Boult (also EMI!). Definitive seems an apt word for Haitinks account of In the Fen Country. Ive not heard it sound more meaningful. This Symphonic Impression might be thought one of VWs lesser works, but Haitink searches out all the mystery of it, the shades of grey, the loneliness, threat even. Id venture to suggest that is an unedited performance, so palpable is the concentration, and the constancy of the (ominous) atmosphere.
The longest work, albeit in six movements, is the song-cycle, rarely heard in the orchestrated version. Ian Bostridges very precise enunciation adds to the word-count but does it hamper the musical line? While Bostridges singing divides his opinion (at least hes not too closely recorded!), Haitink has his innate finger on the pulse for both VWs illustrative touches and the deeper aspects of this (beautiful) music. The opening to Bredon Hill is mesmerising in its sensitivity.