If there were an international style of conducting Vaughan Williams', Bernard Haitink would be its foremost practitioner. But although there have been international conductors who have taken up Vaughan Williams' very, very English music, virtually all of them took him up with English orchestras. Slatkin, Stokowski, even Rozhdestvensky used English conductors when they led their Vaughan Williams, and Haitink, the most international of international conductors, used the London Philharmonic for his Vaughan Williams. Ultimately, no matter how international Haitink's interpretations may be, his Vaughan Williams performance sounds as English as shepherd's pie. But while one may or may not wish for an international style of conducting for Vaughan Williams' symphonies, one cannot help but be grateful that Haitink has the London Philharmonic in this collection of Vaughan Williams's shorter works. How else could one wish the modal ecstasy of the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis or the bucolic blessedness of The Lark Ascending or the rolling serenity of In the Fen Country or the pastoral bliss of On Wenlock Edge to sound except as very, very English played by a very, very English orchestra? Along with violinist Sarah Chang and tenor Ian Bostridge, Haitink directs clear-headed but warm-hearted performances that may or may not be English and may or may not be international, but are certainly as deep and moving as the best ever recorded. EMI's digital sound is rich, colorful, detailed, and just about real.
Review by James Leonard
|On Wenlock Edge, song cycle for tenor, piano & string quartet (or tenor & orchestra)|