For reasonably well-conducted and fairly well-played performances of four lesser-known works by two of England's better-known twentieth century composers, this disc of music by Tippett and Vaughan Williams with John Farrer leading the English Sinfonia surely will do. Farrer certainly grasps Tippett's characteristic soaring themes and buoyant rhythms in his Concerto for Double String Orchestra and Little Music for String Orchestra and clearly understands Vaughan Williams' characteristic modal counterpoint in his Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus and at least some of his more than slightly eccentric humor in the Partita for Double String Orchestra. Regrettably, Farrer does not articulate Tippett's idiosyncratic lyricism or his individualistic structures -- listen to the coda of the Allegro molto from the Double String Concerto: Farrer does not make the tempo shift clear enough, and instead of achieving ecstatic release, the music sputters and fails. And likewise, Farrer does not express Vaughan Williams' peculiar kind of agnostic spirituality in the Dives and Lazarus Variants -- where is the sense of commingled sorrow and joy in the close? -- nor does he convey Vaughan Williams' tongue-in-cheek wit in the Partita -- where is the dance band parody in the "Intermezzo (Homage to Henry Hall)" (Hall was England's dance band king)? The English Sinfonia is a plucky but scrappy orchestra whose ensemble could be tighter and whose violins could be warmer, while Sanctuary's sound is rough and not especially appealing. For great recordings of the Tippett works, seek out Neville Marriner's brilliant recordings with the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, and for great recordings of Vaughan Williams's Variants and Partita, look for Adrian Boult's radiant recordings with the London Philharmonic.
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AllMusic Review by James Leonard
|Concerto for Double String Orchestra|
|Little Music, for string orchestra|
|Partita for double string orchestra|