Vaughan Williams: The Story of a Flemish Farm; The Loves of Joanna Godden; Bitter Springs

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Vaughan Williams
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Vaughan Williams
WORKS: The Story of a Flemish Farm; The Loves of Joanna Godden; Bitter Springs
PERFORMER: BBC Philharmonic/Rumon Gamba
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10368
Vaughan Williams always wanted to score a Western, and Bitter Springs, an Australian equivalent featuring Aborigines instead of Redskins, is about as near as he got. Not very, unfortunately, because he really only composed 38 bars, the basis for a distinctly less inspired score by music director Ernest Irving. All the same, it’s genial music with occasional flashes of recognisable RVW. Also recorded for the first time is The Loves of Joanna Godden, a Hardy-esque rural drama far better suited to his musical language, the sweeping score credibly reconstructed by Stephen Hogger and splendidly played by the BBC forces.

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Widely as they’ve been praised, though, I was unconvinced by Rumon Gamba’s previous recordings in this series, particularly a grossly slow, turgid Scott of the Antarctic, wholly unwarranted by the original, and his similarly overblown account of RVW’s most exciting score, Coastal Command. These present performances are somewhat better, but in the only previously recorded score, the wartime epic Story of a Flemish Farm, I still found I preferred Andrew Penny’s Naxos version: less well played and recorded, but fresher, more idiomatic, generously coupled (including an excellent Coastal Command) – and much cheaper. The new recordings are the chief interest here, and only Joanna Godden is vintage RVW. Michael Scott Rohan