VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis
Sakari Oramo’s recent Ostrobothnian CO version of Britten’s Frank Bridge Variations (Alba, 9/16) served up plenty of food for thought. By its side, this LSO Live newcomer, for all its clean-heeled athleticism and rhythmic spring, never quite settles, evincing rather less in the way of recreative spark, crisp discipline and unanimity of purpose. Need I add that both are, in turn, outflanked by the composer’s blisteringly eloquent 1966 recording with the ECO (Decca, 1/87)?
I’m not entirely sold on this new Tallis Fantasia either. LSO leader Roman Simovic elicits a generally tidy response from his colleagues but the actual interpretation brings with it a hint of blandness. Indeed, the score is surveyed with such tasteful objectivity that it’s often difficult to detect the passion simmering beneath the surface, while that astounding climactic largamente paragraph beginning at three before fig R (or 9'39") lacks clinching intensity. I also find myself craving a greater sense of atmosphere and depth of perspective than the Barbican Hall acoustic can muster. Something of a lightweight, then, and certainly no match for Mark Elder’s resplendent Hallé recording (2/15) or Andrew Davis’s wonderfully rapt (and superlatively engineered) BBC SO version (Warner Apex, 5/03).
The Elgar Introduction and Allegro goes best, but even here it’s not hard to imagine playing of greater intensity, flair and edge-of-seat excitement – speaking of which, don’t deprive yourself of experiencing Barbirolli in this glorious music, above all his incandescent 1956 account with the Hallé.