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Vaughan Williams at his most seductive,
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This review is from: Vaughan Williams: Job - A Masque for Dancing, Fantasia On a Theme by Thomas Tallis, Five Variants of Dives & Lazarus (Audio CD)
I am sometimes faintly ambivalent about the music of Vaughan Williams in that like any sentient musical soul I am instantly seduced by the sonority of his orchestration and the sweet melancholy of his sound world but do not much enjoy what sound to me like forced forays into spiky modernism in such as his Fourth Symphony. On the other hand, his harmonies and cadences are so instantly recognisable that he occasionally courts self-parody and one is manoeuvred into asking if the composition relies too heavily on certain musical tropes or mere atmospheric padding over thematic substance.
That is certainly not the case with the three master-works here. They represent Vaughan Williams at his absolute best and are played with maximum finesse and sumptuousness by Vernon Handley and the LPO. The strings headed by orchestra leader David Nolan could hardly be more opulent of tone, a quality enhanced by Handley's relaxed beat. He takes a slightly more indulgent approach than his mentor and teacher Sir Adrian Boult, whose brisker manner and more propulsively flexible beat shaves five minutes off the Masque compared with his pupil's version. Boult recorded "Job" four times but never had the advantage of digital sound; hence his otherwise very competitive bargain account from the 60's is afflicted with a fair amount of hiss and a rather more up-front acoustic than the rounded, slightly distanced ambience of St Augustine's, Kilburn, where Handley recorded this 1983 "Job" for EMI.
The lushly scored reveries of the three compositions here form a rich diet and listening to them all at one sitting could produce a touch of bucolic indigestion but one admires afresh VW's ability to synthesize Elizabethan dance with English folk song and stately anthems into a coherent entity which is forever looking nostalgically backward while maintaining a modern harmonic sensibility. Under Handley's baton, each episode of the Masque melds seamlessly into the next, from the measured pace of the opening Saraband to the brassy triumphalism of Satan's challenge to the insolent hypocrisy of Job's comforters (characterised by a seedy saxophone) to the ethereal beauty of Elihu's Dance of Youth, so meltingly played by Nolan and, to my ears, reminiscent at its opening of the Transformation music in Strauss's "Die Frau Ohne Schatten".
This is the perfect compilation for anyone wanting one bargain disc encompassing Vaughan Williams' most ravishing and typical music.