Sir Adrian Boult conducts members of the London Symphony, the London Philharmonic, and the New Philharmonia orchestras in this 1991 collection of some of Ralph Vaughan Williams' most classic works. The album is equally enjoyable for newcomers to Vaughan Williams' repertoire and by those who consider him an old friend. It opens with the "Serenade to Music" (a remastering of the original 1987 recording), featuring soloists from the London Philharmonic. This single-movement work for a small orchestra perfectly captures the composer's aesthetic. It is followed by the three tradition movements of the Folk Song Suite (for orchestra), familiar to many from military band repertoire, performed here by members of the London Symphony. For many listeners, this is the most iconic of Vaughan Williams' music on this album--all the more for its size and unassuming nature. The four tracks that follow the Folk Song Suite are all single-movement tone poems: traditional in their musical language and ideas, but less so in form and development. They are also all remastered recordings from 1987. Of the four, the Norfolk Rhapsody and In the Fen Country are probably the least known to listeners. They have become more well-known in recent years, though they were considered obscure as recently as the late nineties. The Fantasia on Greensleeves is a perennial favorite and demonstrates well the composer's knowledge of old-world counterpoint. The final work, The Lark Ascending, differs from the other tone poems in that it is really a single-movement concerto for violin. The 1987 recording features Hugh Bean as the soloist. The delicacy and finesse of Vaughan William's violin writing are such that this album could end with nothing else, and it is immediately obvious upon listening why the piece has remained popular with audiences and soloists alike. Were I ever famous enough to be featured on the BBC's "Desert Island Discs," this collection would certainly make my list.
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