VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Oboe Concerto. Piano Concerto
I was very much taken with Peter Oundjian’s live pairing of Vaughan Williams’s Fourth and Fifth symphonies (5/12), and the present meticulously prepared and generously full Chandos anthology (which marks the end of his 14-year tenure at the helm of the Toronto SO) again has lots to commend it.
In the arresting (and still underrated) Piano Concerto, Oundjian forms a splendidly combustible alliance with Louis Lortie, who proves as commandingly articulate and powerfully imaginative a proponent as any I have yet encountered. Not only does the big-boned solo writing hold absolutely no terrors for him, the experienced French-Canadian virtuoso locates every ounce of crepuscular mystery from the slow movement and ravishingly soft epilogue. Rest assured, Oundjian and his admirably spruce Toronto band are with him every step of the way, and it all adds up to yet another distinguished addition to this craggy utterance’s select discography to set alongside those versions from Howard Shelley (Chandos, 7/91, and Lyrita, 3/93), Piers Lane (CfP, 11/95) and Ashley Wass (Naxos, 12/09). Oundjian also presides over a deeply sympathetic rendering of Flos campi, that sensuous and exotic paean to earthly love (and, like the Piano Concerto, one of RVW’s most questing and sheerly personal utterances). Boasting top-notch contributions from the TSO’s principal viola, Teng Li, and the Elmer Iseler Singers, it’s an uncommonly lucid, entrancingly detailed performance to have you marvelling afresh at this music’s intoxicating beauty, soaring poetry and bracingly adventurous harmonic scope.
As for the remaining items, both the Oboe Concerto and Serenade to Music enjoy supremely mellifluous treatment, but in the former I do crave rather more in the way of tumbling fantasy and freewheeling spontaneity – qualities that Nicholas Daniel for one displays so abundantly in his memorable collaboration with the Britten Sinfonia (Harmonia Mundi, 5/15). Similarly, Oundjian’s conception of RVW’s sublime tribute to Henry Wood strikes me as just a little too somnolent and wanting something in rapt wonder. It’s given in the alternative arrangement sanctioned by the ever-practical composer featuring orchestra, chorus and four instead of 16 soloists (here soprano, mezzo, tenor and baritone) – an option that always leaves me hankering for an authentic bass voice at ‘The motions of his spirit are dull as night, / And his affections dark as Erebus’ (beam to 9'25"). No matter, such is the calibre of the music-making elsewhere, aficionados should, I think, try and hear this ripely engineered anthology for themselves.