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Vaughan Williams: Pilgrim's Progress, with rehearsal sequence Box set

4.6 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Orchestra: London Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Conductor: Adrian Boult
  • Composer: Ralph Vaughan Williams
  • Audio CD (21 April 1992)
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Format: Box set
  • Label: Emi Classical
  • ASIN: B00000DOAL
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 84,333 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
  • Sample this album Artist - Artist (Sample)
1
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3:46
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2
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10:00
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3
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12:57
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7:48
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5
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10:50
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7
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7:09
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8
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Disc 2
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11:50
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3
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2:12
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4
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7:04
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5
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9:32
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6
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3:42
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7
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3:59
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8
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9:16
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9
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4:01
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10
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5:42
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11
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5:10
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12
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2:50
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Product Description

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

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This is a work that tends to divide even Vaughan Williams admirers so I want to say a little about the work itself as well as the recording. VW brooded over the work for decades, writing the "Shepherds of the Delectable Mountains" section many years before the work found this final form. That section is, incidentally, one of the most perfect moments of the finished "Morality". I think VW was right not to describe the work as an Opera.
VW despaired of ever being given the opportunity to see it performed and so it was cannibalised for a radio dramatisation of Bunyan's story (this is the Gielgud narrated version mentioned in an earlier review). Its key themes also found their way into VWs magical fifth symphony; which should be any newcomers starting point for discovering the music. Then, after a slightly unsatisfactory attempt at Covent Garden during the Festival of Britain, it was staged in a largely amateur production at Cambridge in 1954. For the young Physics student, John Noble, who took the title role it was a literally life-changing experience as he went on to become a professional singer. His performance in this recording is marvellous and feels utterly truthful. Not only did EMI recruit the original Pilgrim but they committed their "crack" VW specialist, Sir Adrian, and spared no expense in its production. Boult is a conductor who is unsurpassed in this music and the huge team of soloists who feature in the "tableaux" of the many scenes are characterful and thoroughly engaging. The recording is very fine indeed and comes across vividly and atmospherically in the re-mastering.
The work itself is flawed, in my opinion. For example, the crucial encounter with Apollyon just doesn't come off, in spite of Robert Lloyd's determined efforts to inject some menace into his underwritten scene.
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Format: Audio CD
Vaughan Williams' hymns and religious works leave many Christian compositions for dead. [Not bad for an avowed agnostic!]
I loved the Matthew Best version, with narration by the superb John Gielgud. The use of the Thomas Tallis Fantasia music was one of the things which attracted me to this work, but you will have to listen hard to hear any of the Fantasia in this version. [I understand that the Best version is based on the radio play, which used that music at scene changes.]
However, this is a wonderful performance. The recording quality is excellent, and you will enjoy John Noble's sterling performance as Pilgrim, and Robert Lloyd's evil evocation of Apollyon [with delightfully corny, circa 1970s sound effects on his voice!] The well researched liner notes tell us that Noble had performed the the role at Cambridge in 1954,and that his performance had moved Vaughan Williams deeply.
It would be interesting to know how the tinker from Bedford would have reacted to his simple story being set to music [and by one he would have regarded as being a citizen of the City of Destruction!]
The depiction of Vanity Fair is one of the highlights, as is the opening setting of the hymn tune, York.
Highly recommended.
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Format: Audio CD
I had the privilege of working backstage during the 1954 Cambridge production of Pilgrim's Progress at the city's Guldhall and also had the pleasure of meeting the grand old man himself, when Vaughan Williams and his wife attended a performance and came backstage.
I found the performance of that work completely overwhelming and a fully emotional experience. The sequence when Pilgrim meets Mr. By-Ends is very Puccini-esque and the "Lord is My shepherd" sequence is quite sublime. The Entrance into Heaven completely surpasses Handel's Hallelujah Chorus and is most moving. I have worn out my three disc LP set over the years. The CD re-issue of this recording is highly recommended.
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I'd be interested to hear from anyone who saw the recent production at the ENO. For me it proved that this is not an easily stageable work. I wasn't totally happy with the fact that the director had decided that John Bunyan and the Pilgrim were the same person. I found the electrocution scene a bit bizarre. And it remains a pretty static work in which the performers have to pretty much just wave their hands around and try to look occupied. However, to the point - the music. On that, the ENO performance was utterly splendid, and came amazingly close to this great recording, which I have loved unconditionally for the last 40 years [gulp]. So, 1. you need to love RVW through the symphonies, 2. you have to be happy with people singing silly words, 3. you need to get over the fact that this is an "opera" with no love interest. Manage that, and you'll find here one of the most sublime works ever written. This is going to heaven with me [well, somewhere anyway]
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