Piano Concerto; Oboe Concerto; Flos Campi; Serenade to Music
Carla Huhtanen (soprano), Emily D’Angelo (mezzo-soprano), Lawrence Wilford (tenor), Tyler Duncan (baritone), Sarah Jeffrey (oboe), Teng Li (viola), Louis Lortie (piano); Elmer Iseler Singers; Toronto Symphony Orchestra/Peter Oundjian
Chandos CHSA 5201 (hybrid CD/SACD) 82:21 mins
This generously filled release is an ideal introduction for anyone wanting to explore beyond familiar Vaughan Williams repertoire. And the best of the performances will also reward attention by serious pundits. With its unusual line-up of solo viola, small orchestra and wordless female chorus, Flos Campi is still quite rarely performed, and the work’s sensuous meditation on the biblical Song of Songs is here graced with what must be a candidate for its finest recording ever. The solo playing by Toronto Symphony principal Teng Li offers deep weight of tone, rapturous phrasing, and a musical personality that mesmerises the ear; the choral singing is superbly focused and (easier said than done) flawlessly in tune, with a classy orchestral accompaniment to match.
Another remarkable example of Vaughan Williams in near-modernist 1920s mode, the Piano Concerto has passages recalling middle-period Bartók in terms of angular dissonance, besides the expected passages of lyrical beauty: Louis Lortie’s powerful delivery of the solo part makes a persuasive case for a much-neglected work. While Sarah Jeffrey (also a Toronto principal) is at first less impressive in the Oboe Concerto, her playing increasingly searches out the music’s poignant heart, memorably so in the finale. The only disappointment, and minor at that, comes in Serenade to Music. This choral version (made by the composer as an easier-to-programme counterpart to the original score with 16 solo voices) places a premium on the quality of the four soloists – decent enough here but, excepting Tyler Duncan’s fine baritone, not top class.