Vaughan Williams: Complete Recordings – review

BBC SO/London SO/New Philharmonia O/London PO/Boult
(EMI)

The music of Vaughan Williams was a constant in Adrian Boult's conducting life; the two met when Boult was a student at Oxford between 1908 and 1912, and became lifelong friends. Boult sang in the second performance of Vaughan Williams' Sea Symphony, included the London Symphony in his first professional concerts as a conductor, and took charge of the premieres of the Third, Fourth and Sixth Symphonies; Vaughan Williams dedicated the ballet score Job: A Masque for Dancing to him.

Boult recorded many Vaughan Williams works several times, but it's his final thoughts on many of them that this box brings together; most recordings here date from 1967 to 1975, though there are also some from the 40s and 50s, including the Violin Concerto with Yehudi Menuhin, Flos Campi with William Primrose as solo viola, and the choral version of the Serenade to Music. The symphonies are the bedrock of the set; this was Boult's second complete cycle on disc, and the benefits of his career-long immersion in these scores is audible, whether in the remorseless power of the Fourth, the wonderfully natural unfolding of the Fifth or his ability to respect the symphonic aspirations of the Sinfonia Antartica without underplaying its programmatic origins.

Perhaps Boult's great achievement in these years was his recording of The Pilgrim's Progress, the first complete version of the work that had occupied Vaughan Williams for 30 years. Whatever its shortcomings as drama, as last autumn's ENO staging showed, the score contains some of his greatest music, and Boult gives it remarkable breadth and transcendence. His account of Job is also extraordinary, as are the performances of the Tallis Fantasia, the 16-voice version of the Serenade to Music and In the Fen Country; the list could go on and on.

Contributor

Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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