Delius, Elgar, Vaughan Williams

COMPOSERS: Delius,Elgar,Vaughan Williams
LABELS: Classics for Pleasure
ALBUM TITLE: Vernon Handley English Music Series
WORKS: Brigg Fair; In a Summer Garden; Eventyr; The Walk to the Paradise Garden; Summer Night on the River; On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring, ; Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2; Falstaff; Sea Pictures, : Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 3; Sympho
PERFORMER: Joan Rodgers, Alison Hargan (soprano), Bernadette Greevy (mezzo-soprano), William Shimell (baritone), David Nolan (violin), Christopher Balmer (viola), Jonathan Small (oboe); Royal Liverpool PO & Choir, Hallé Orchestra, LPO/Vernon Handley
CATALOGUE NO: ADD/DDD
For many years Vernon Handley has been one of the most respected of British conductors, and a staunch, insightful champion of British music in particular. So EMI deserves gratitude for these well-presented reissues of his Eminence and CfP recordings of the last 30 years (but mostly from the digital era). Many of them are recouplings – irritating if you have some of the previous issues, but otherwise offering some well-filled bargains.

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Thus, Handley’s masterly reading of Elgar’s First Symphony now appears with all five of the surprisingly varied Pomp and Circumstance Marches (5 75305 2). The equally impressive Second Symphony retains its coupling with the Sea Pictures, which both Handley and the excellent contralto Bernadette Greevy treat as the major work it is (5 75306 2). Both these are with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, as is another generous programme of Falstaff, Cockaigne, the Serenade and the Introduction and Allegro (5 75307 2).

A Delius disc includes idiomatic performances with the Hallé Orchestra of Brigg Fair, In a Summer Garden and the fascinating, rarely heard Eventyr, plus smaller works with the LPO (5 75315 2). The rest of that LPO Delius programme crops up alongside some Vaughan Williams, including The Lark Ascending, with David Nolan a sweet-toned soloist, and the resplendently scored Prelude and Fugue (5 75316 2). Another LPO Vaughan Williams compilation includes the Tallis Fantasia in a disappointingly dry acoustic, but also a superbly characterised Job (5 75314 2).

But the cream of the series is Handley’s cycle of Vaughan Williams symphonies, all with the unfailingly responsive Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. The Sea Symphony has strong choral singing and a thrilling soprano soloist in Joan Rodgers (5 75308 2). The Sinfonia antartica also receives an epic performance, though the choral version of the Serenade to Music is disappointing (5 75313 2). There

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are recommendable pairings of the London Symphony with the colourful Eighth (5 75309 2), the Pastoral with the Fourth, not the fiercest of performances but compellingly argued (5 75310 2), and the questioning Sixth and Ninth (5 75312 2). Best of all is the serene Fifth, now coupled not only with the lovely Flos campi (Christopher Balmer the first-rate viola soloist), but also with Jonathan Small’s glorious account of the Oboe Concerto (5 75311 2). This is a disc which goes to the heart of Vaughan Williams, and of ‘Tod’ Handley’s devoted music-making.