Vaughan Williams: The Wasps (incidental music)

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Vaughan Williams
ALBUM TITLE: Vaughan Williams
WORKS: The Wasps (incidental music)
PERFORMER: Henry Goodman (narrator); Hallé Choir & Orchestra/Mark Elder


This recording has just about everything: robust comedy, sharp wit, sensuous delight, emotional uplift and food for thought all in one package. David Pountney has done a masterful job in compressing and updating Aristophanes’s play, with references to focus groups and lemongrass sorbets fitting very neatly with Aristophanes’s original satiric thrust. Narrator Henry Goodman swerves from voicing the toe-curling bigot Procleon to his oleaginous careerist son so convincingly that I spent a good couple of minutes fruitlessly searching the booklet for the ‘other’ actor’s name. Playing and singing by the Hallé Orchestra and Choir are every bit as skilful and bristling with character. But the big surprise is how marvellously Vaughan Williams’s music serves its original theatrical purpose. If you know the famous Wasps Overture and the March Past of the Kitchen Utensils you won’t need convincing that the 36 year-old composer’s imagination was firing on all four cylinders. But there’s so much more glorious music in this extensive score: rumbustious march-songs; a gorgeous, Delius-inflected nocturne; and chunks of melodrama that spark wonderfully off the words and actions – hearing this makes it easier to understand how the older Vaughan Williams could take so readily to film music. And as well as sounding lovely, the recording is something of a theatrical achievement in its own right. Stephen Johnson