"I know people revere Boult and Handley and Hickox as the best of all possible interpreters for British music, along with Groves and Barbirolli and all of the other artists presented here. So please don't take offense as I pick apart this box set -- because it's not as great as some other reviewers make it out to be. Others can tell you why it's good (and it has LOTS of good stuff). Let me criticize it a little. Or a lot.
First, the packaging. I'm getting really tired of these box sets (Elgar on EMI, reissue of Stravinsky set on Sony, etc.) that are missing biographies or descriptions of the works outside of a track listing. Is it so hard to reprint the liner notes from the original releases? Why on earth do they not include a libretto?? I can barely understand a word of these choruses and unless you've heard Sir John in Love or Hugh the Drover before, I don't think you'll be able to figure a whole lot out without resorting to the Internet and digging pretty deeply. Like the Elgar set, about half of this set has vocal works. So it's a huge drawback not to have texts and librettos.
Second, these recordings are old. Fine. But they _sound_ old. I guess if EMI can't add liner notes, they won't spend the time to remaster their recordings before putting them back on the shelves. People who are replacing their vinyl recordings may be celebrating, but those of us who are young enough to have never owned vinyl or 8-track tapes will find that some of these recordings sound antiquated. This is especially true for those impossible-to-decipher vocal works. The songs are blurry and fuzzy (typical of low-end ADD), and there's nothing to be done without the help of a good sound engineer. It's clear much more care was put into the first half, which is full of the orchestral blockbusters that I'm sure have sold much better over time.
Third, EMI was so lazy that they just put the CDs in this set as they were released originally without any consideration of repetition. There are 3 different versions of the Serenade to Music (one for chorus, one for 16 singers, and one with orchetra) under 3 different conductors. It's a charming work, but not _that_ charming. The Piano Concerto in an orchestral version, and then in 2-piano form? Ugh, there's a reason why Vaughan Williams kept editing it -- it's about as dry and bland as overcooked turkey. Two versions of the Fantasia of the Christmas Carols? On my Scrooge days, one is too many.
I suppose the argument can be made that EMI has given choices, so you can pick the version you like best to put on your iPod. By why do that with such marginal works -- if they're going to have 2 versions of anything, it should be the symphonies. Handley's interpretations are five stars in my book -- they were good enough to convince me to sell my Slatkin set.
So, I guess it's a must-buy only because there's nothing more complete out there at such a low price. But lament the fact that it could have -- and should have! -- been so much better."
Great Value, Fine Performances
Paul Van de Water | Virginia, USA | 07/18/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"For lovers of Ralph Vaughan Williams' music, the prospect of obtaining most of his works on 30 CDs for $50 or less should be irresistible. It's a great way to fill in the gaps in your collection, or to become acquainted with RVW's less familiar works. Among the highlights of this box are the Serenade to Music and the Pilgrim's Progress (both conducted by Adrian Boult), Partita for Double String Orchestra (Vernon Handley), Riders to the Sea and Sir John in Love (Meredith Davies), Hugh the Drover (Charles Groves), and On Wenlock Edge and Ten Blake Songs (sung by Ian Partridge). Vernon Handley's recordings of the symphonies have received uniform 5-star reviews on Amazon.
In most cases, the performances and sound quality are very good to excellent. Hard-core fans will appreciate the inclusion of variants of a few works, such as the vocal and purely orchestral versions of the Serenade to Music. As would be expected in a compendium of this sort, a few of the items have performances or sound that is less than ideal. For example, Matthew Best's recording of A Song of Thanksgiving is far better than the one included here, but the Hyperion disc is no longer in print, and a used copy costs half as much as this entire package. The booklet lists the performers and the contents of every track, but it lacks both notes and texts. Nonetheless, there's more than enough great stuff here to justify the modest price."
EMI's Vaughan Williams Collection
Harold Fromm | Tucson, AZ | 08/14/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This splendid set, an amazing bargain, provides most of Vaughan Williams's music in various, sometimes relatively recent, vintages of recordings. VW is a vastly underrated composer. Some of the symphonies are bonafide masterpieces, especially numbers 4 and 6, but the London Symphony (#2) and the 8th and 9th are pretty top drawer as well, if not as stunning as 4 and 6. But then, 3 and 5 are excellent in a more "pastoral" way, though hardly the "cow music" written about in a recent New York Times article. If VW has written any "cow music" my ears have never detected it. The First Symphony, however, a choral work based on text by Walt Whitman, is as uncowlike as you can get but too hysterically pitched for my taste (like Mahler's Eighth).
The sublime Tallis Fantasy is given an expert performance, the marvelous Oboe Concerto is well done. The two string quartets are little known but very worth listening to.
In all, at less than $2 per disk, it's hard to see why anyone would turn it down. The set's only serious defect is the pathetically inadequate documentation. One can hardly figure out who's performing what. The disks themselves lack track numbers, very inconvenient, and the booklet lacks notes. But the set is nicely boxed and at this price it seems churlish to quarrel."
A steal but..
AMK | 09/16/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Having enjoyed the companion Elgar set, I bought this immediately when it came out. It is certainly extraordinary value for money, at less than $3 per disc. I am less taken with the content however. Many of the recordings are choral works which are less compelling to this listener than V-W's orchestral works. Moreover, the latter are just not that exciting when compared to other recordings that I already possess. The organization is also rather parsimonious, and short works--often interesting ones--are tucked away amongst very different tracks, making listening more active than I prefer. So, not actually a disappointment but its not dominating the CD player or replacing other versions in my collection. Kudos for the presentation however; the Elgar box is garish, while this is rather pleasing, although it does of course fall for the 'Shropshire lad' conceit that dogged the composer throughout his life."