Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
Serenade to Music
Symphony No.5 in D
Why fum’th in Fight?
Jessica Rivera (soprano)
Kelley O’Connor (mezzo-soprano)
Thomas Studebaker (tenor)
Nmon Ford (baritone)
Atlanta Chamber Chorus
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
Recorded September and October 2006 in Woodruff Arts Center, Symphony Hall, Atlanta, Georgia
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: September 2007
CD No: TELARC CD-80676
Duration: 71 minutes
Three of Vaughan Williams’s most contemplative and ecstatic works gathered together (I’m not sure the booklet note’s “peaceful” for the Fifth Symphony is quite in touch with this work). Three masterpieces!
The Tallis Fantasia is preceded here by Tallis’s “Why fum’th in Fight” (in a rather non-committal if perfectly turned rendition), the inspiration for Vaughan Williams’s work for two string orchestras (one large, one smaller and far away) and string quartet given, under Robert Spano’s conducting, a dignified and warm-toned account, nicely flowing and with a good perspective for how the strings are disposed. This lyrically charged account impresses for Spano’s wholeness of approach and there is a fine sense of inwardness and climax, too.
“Serenade to Music”, setting passages from Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice”, was composed by Vaughan Williams to celebrate Sir Henry Wood’s 50 years as a conductor. Originally written for 16 of the leading singers of the time – “Serenade to Music” dates from 1938 – there are versions for four soloists and orchestra, choir and orchestra and even orchestra alone, but this one has soloists and chorus – very well managed by all concerned, and in focussed and well-balanced sound. Spano keeps the music on the move – no-one could accuse him of sentimentalising it or applying too much external emotionalism, but there is no lack of contact with the music’s expressive core or, indeed, its occasional eerie darkness.
In between comes the Fifth Symphony (1943), a celestial corollary to war, radiantly beautifully and striking deep into one’s soul. Spano, once more, has the measure of the music’s span, its tension and release, and also its divinity, the Atlanta Symphony’s strings possessing attractive pellucid and ardent qualities and the brass being nobly integrated (the big climaxes of the outer movements are uplifting, although the brass, disappointingly, is a bit too dominant in the finale). The sprites of the scherzo are notably well poised and pointed, the ineffable beauty of the ‘Romanze’ made profoundly moving – the Atlanta musicians seem smitten by this music – and the finale has direction, culmination and a sense of visitation in the tranquil final bars.
With recorded sound of depth and clarity that is ideal for this music – a deep-pile carpet of strings doesn’t for a moment suggest that the Atlanta Symphony is only striving for luxury, for these performances all have a spiritual quality that is rather special and beyond the realm of personal possession, in the symphony especially. Spano has already recorded Vaughan Williams’s “A Sea Symphony” – dare one hope for a symphony cycle from these forces? He really does have a wonderful feel for Vaughan Williams’s great music.