A Hidden Vaughan Williams Masterwork!
Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 03/23/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"While the symphonies of Ralph Vaughan Williams continue to enjoy performances in concert halls and recording studios, some of his lesser well-known works languish. Such is the case for the 'Concerto Grosso for String Orchestra', a magnificent work for large ensemble that probes the depths and heights of Vaughan Williams powerful orchestration skills as well as any of the symphonies.
This recording by the Vaughan Williams specialist, conductor Bryden Thomsen, was made in 1988 with the London Symphony Orchestra, and obviously the reason for separating this recording from Thomson's well-regarded box set of all of the Vaughan Williams symphonies was the release of the 'Concerto Grosso'. The signature work on the CD is the Symphony No. 2 "The London Symphony" and Thomson delivers a staggering, stunning performance of this massive work. The orchestra is in top form and the performance is richly hued in atmosphere as well as superlative playing in all sections.
But the beauty of this release, for this listener, is the sonorous 'Concerto Grosso for String Orchestra', a work divided into five sections: Intrada, Burlesca Ostinata, Sarabande, Scherzo, March And Reprise. Thomson literally pulls out of the lush strings of the LSO as much color as most composers require from a full orchestra. The work is beautiful, inspiring, and a flash of Vaughan Williams inspiration we rarely get to hear. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp, March 06
Music Is Everything | Colorado Springs, CO USA | 05/11/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I came late to Vaughan Williams' music. The Classical recording industry has a pesky habit of pressing one or two signature pieces that are supposed to exemplify a composer's style; if you get the wrong impression, you might move on and overlook some wonderful music. In Vaughan Williams' case, the signature pieces are "Fantasia on Greensleeves" and "The Lark Ascending"--both beautiful music and enjoyable, but not even a hint of the true depth of Vaughan Williams' music.
Then along came this amazing recording of Vaughan Williams' Second Symphony, "A London Symphony." This is a major work, with all the expression, detail, complexity, and humanity of symphonies by Mahler, Rachmanninov, or Shostakovich. Vaughan Williams begins with what sounds like a vision of London from a distance, as though the city were coming to life one beautiful morning. Before you know it, you're swept into Vaughan Williams' vision of life in this great city. The slow movement is simply one of the most stunningly gorgeous musical statements I've ever encountered. The scherzo is clearly a depiction of the hustle and bustle of London streets, and after a last inspiring hommage beginning the fourth movement, the symphony ends quietly, as though the sun is setting (not unlike Strauss' Alpine Symphony). I was so impressed with this piece that I couldn't stop listening to it for weeks, and along the way realized that the London Symphony Orchestra's artistry, conductor Bryden Thomson's expert pacing and phrasing, and the Chandos engineers' diligent efforts to capture a natural and brilliant soundscape all come together to make a truly excellent recording.
As if this weren't an embarrassment of riches already, the CD also includes a rarely-heard bit of Vaughan Williams' genius: Concerto Grosso for String Orchestra. Actually, it's TWO string orchestras! The piece was meant to bring professional players and students together, so the second orchestra's parts are easier and the second movement even opens with a quick survey of all the open strings. This was an amazing idea by Vaughan Williams, and although composers have written pieces for varied levels of players for centuries, this is one of the most enjoyable and effective examples. (Incidentally, the London Symphony musicians cover all the parts for this performance.)
All things considered, this is one of the most enjoyable Classical recordings I've ever encountered. Highly recommended.