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
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: December 2003
CD No: EMI 5851512
It’s a good idea to put the off-cuts from Bernard Haitink’s Vaughan Williams cycle on to a single CD. No doubt, now, the symphonies themselves will be boxed (for the conductor’s 75th-birthday next year), which will be an ideal time to re-assess his view of these great pieces that, maybe, hasn’t yet settled into the critical mind.
This won’t 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 Chang’s soaring account now seems more inspired than when first heard on the original pressing. There’s spontaneity here, and a conscious awareness that this music is no mere pastoral ramble, which compels attention; Haitink’s 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 Haitink’s account of In the Fen Country. I’ve not heard it sound more meaningful. This Symphonic Impression might be thought one of VW’s ’lesser’ works, but Haitink searches out all the mystery of it, the shades of grey, the loneliness, threat even. I’d 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 Bostridge’s very precise enunciation adds to the word-count – but does it hamper the musical line? While Bostridge’s singing divides his opinion (at least he’s not too closely recorded!), Haitink has his innate finger on the pulse for both VW’s illustrative touches and the deeper aspects of this (beautiful) music. The opening to “Bredon Hill” is mesmerising in its sensitivity.