Top positive review
30 people found this helpful
on 14 January 2012
If I had to save one disc from the proverbial fire, it would probably be this one. No only does it contain one of the finest recordings of my favourite piece of music ever composed, the Tallis Fantasia, but also a benchmark performance of The Lark Ascending, with the wonderful Iona Brown`s virtuosic violin sweeping and swooping us along on skittish wings of languid melody.
Between these two timeless works is the brief, delectable Fantasia On Greensleeves, which features the silvery, mellifluous flute playing of William Bennett.
But the surprise - the hidden gem - for many listeners may well be the 13-minute Five Variants Of `Dives And Lazarus`, as lovely as the Lark or the Fantasia, and as melancholy as they are (for the most part) uplifting. When VW discovered the tune "in a copy of English Country Songs" as the excellent sleevenotes tell us, the composer "had that sense of recognition - here`s something which I have known all my life, only I didn`t know it."
Well, quite. That is exactly how I felt when I first heard these pieces. In fact I shall never forget how I was introduced to the Tallis Fantasia. I was sharing a flat in Finchley forty years ago with several others. One day, two of my fellow male tenants stuck a pair of headphones over my ears and said, with great eagerness, "Listen to this!" I did, was in a state of bliss for all of its fifteen minutes, and knew I would love the work all my life. So much so that I wish to have it played at my funeral...
VW has, over the last century or so, had some daft things said about his music. No, it isn`t "cowpat music" nor is it in some way idealistically "English", though of course much of it - especially the pieces here - is redolent of the English countryside, with that hard-to-pin-down strain of melancholy hidden deep in the English character, and which is one of its most attractive traits. (I am able to be half-objective, being half-Welsh - a melancholy race if ever there was one!)
I do hope lovers of this music will go on to explore all VW`s other works, his nine
astonishing symphonies - truly the journey of a life - as well as his choral and chamber works. But he really did create, with these pieces, something unique to his peculiar genius. Internationally, he and Elgar must surely be the most undervalued of composers. A great pity. I imagine anyone with a heart and spirit would give a lot to have composed the Fantasia or the Lark...
Great English music?