Vaughan Williams: Dona nobis pacem; Fantasia on the Old 104th; Toward the Unknown Region; Magnificat; Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis; The Lark Ascending; Concerto grosso,

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COMPOSERS: Vaughan Williams
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Dona nobis pacem; Fantasia on the Old 104th; Toward the Unknown Region; Magnificat; Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis; The Lark Ascending; Concerto grosso,
PERFORMER: Soloists; Philharmonia Orchestra, BBC SO/Malcolm Sargent, LPO & Choir/Adrian Boult, Orchestra Nova of London/Meredith Davies
CATALOGUE NO: CZS 5 74782 2 ADD mono/stereo Reissue (1953-76)
Anthony Rolfe Johnson recorded the two Vaughan Williams cycles early in his professional career. To call his performances ‘fresh’ would be an understatement: there’s a sense of wonder and love in Rolfe Johnson’s singing which gives even the best-known songs the force of something new. Songs of Travel has traditionally been baritone territory, and it could be argued that Rolfe Johnson’s sweet lyric tenor lacks the manly, stoic resolution demanded by ‘The Vagabond’, but in ‘Youth and Love’ and ‘Bright is the Ring of Words’ he is simply irresistible. The collection of English song recorded the following year is every bit as fine, though perhaps this gives an even better indication of his range of expression – a pity no texts are included. The Vaughan Williams choral/orchestral set is more of a mixed bag. At best – as in Boult’s Dona nobis pacem and Partita for Double String Orchestra – there is dignified intensity and warmth, though not always the urgency the music demands. Sound quality is more variable still – was Toward the Unknown Region really recorded as recently as 1973? Stephen Johnson

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