Vaughan Williams

COMPOSERS: Vaughan Williams
LABELS: VoicePrint/Isolde Films
ALBUM TITLE: O Thou Transcendent: a film by Tony Palmer
PERFORMER: With John Adams, Mark Anthony Turnage, Michael Kennedy, Roy Douglas, Imogen Holst, Michael Tippett, André Previn, Stephen Johnson etc
CATALOGUE NO: VoicePrint/Isolde Films (NTSC system; stereo; 16:9 picture format
Quite simply, superb. The image of Ralph Vaughan Williams (RVW) fixed in living memory is the ancient, genial, tweedy buffer of the 1950s, characterised by Harrison Birtwistle as ‘Mr Badger’ – all too easily dismissed by the modernist mafia as a cosy folk-song peddler. The real man, a literal colossus, courageous, passionate and fiercely original, is obscured in Edwardian mists; but Tony Palmer brings us face to face with him and his genuine stature more dramatically, for all their virtues, than most biographies.>As in his excellent Rachmaninov film (reviewed in October) he uses original photographs, film and voice-overs – including RVW’s own, slightly melancholic – to shape this picture, reinforcing it with thankfully more substantial musical extracts, strikingly played by Tamás Vásáry and the Hungarians, but more movingly by RVW’s own National Youth Orchestra under Sian Edwards. Other illustrious performers range from Joan Rodgers, Thomas Allen and Simon Keenlyside to Jordi Savall and folkies Martin Carthy and (less aptly) Barbara Dickson, with mezzo Anna Stéfany wonderfully haunting in ‘From far, from Eve and Morning’. Ursula Vaughan Williams, Michael Kennedy and innumerable less predictable talking heads contribute good sense, generally illuminating Palmer’s view of a profound figure whose music is shaded with depths of torment and pessimism.He overstates this somewhat, and briefly blunders into the Ken Russell slough, gratuitously illustrating war’shorrors with voyeuristic images of child corpses and distraught parents. It’s a minor blot, though, on a compelling vision. I’m not even remotely English, yet this filled me with a fierce pride on their behalf, for producing so towering yet