Neither the most ardent fan of 20th century English orchestral music, or even, one suspects, the composers themselves, would count the works on this 2010 Dutton disc by John Wilson and the BBC Concert Orchestra as among their best. The best-known composer has the least remarkable work; Vaughan Williams' very early and previously unrecorded Heroic Elegy & Triumphal Epilogue is evidence of the composer's youthful fling with Wagner, but vast and monumental as it is, the work fails to express the composer's own voice. The best-represented composer here is William Alwyn. The disc opens with his sprightly and spirited Overture in the Form of a Serenade, and includes the brief but robust Prelude, the slight but evocative Blackdown, the warm yet witty Peter Pan Suite, and the angular yet amusing Ad Infinitum. None of these works show Alwyn at his best -- his five symphonies hold that distinction -- but each is sharply characterized and immediately engaging. For example, at the Overture's climax, the chorus seems to be singing the Trio from the Scherzo of Vaughan Williams' Third Symphony as the orchestra seems to be playing the Trio from the Jupiter movement of Holst's Planets, a hilarious effect. York Bowen's Orchestral Poem, Eventide, is quietly atmospheric, and Hubert Parry's Hypatia incidental music is faintly neo-classical. The performances are consistently impressive. If Wilson and the BBC Concert Orchestra don't know and love this music as much as they know and love Beethoven's Fifth, you wouldn't know it from their polished yet passionate performances. The music may not be great, but it should interest fans of 20th century English orchestral music. Dutton's digital sound is deep, clean, and colorful.
Vaughan Williams, Alwin, Bowen, Parry: Orchestral Works Review
by James Leonard