Ralph Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending is so familiar these days, especially in Britain, that it's easy to forget how recent its popularity really is. Pinchas Zukerman, when he recorded the work at the urging of Daniel Barenboim in 1973 (if one is to believe the entertaining booklet notes), had to ask, "What's a lark?" (Barenboim's response: "It's a bird.") That 1973 recording helped launch the bird onto the high trajectory it has followed ever since, and Zukerman is still hard to beat even with all the other recordings on the market. He has a relaxed, pastoral, flowing conception of the work, and he executes it with entrancing beauty. On top of this you will find other attractions in this 2016 Decca release. There's the presence of Zukerman as conductor in addition to his violin and viola roles, and The Lark Ascending, especially, has an organic sweep that's very rare. He elicits rich string sound from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in the Elgar Serenade for strings, Op. 20, and Introduction and Allegro for string quartet and string orchestra, Op. 47, and both these works get expansive, generously melodic performances. The sound, from London's Cadogan Hall, is excellent. And Zukerman emphasizes his direct connection with the music by including several of Elgar's short tunes, one of which, the arrangement of In Moonlight for viola and orchestra by Julian Milone, has never been recorded before. The sum total is a superb collection of English standards by a great musician who hasn't lost a step.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Serenade for strings in E minor, Op. 20|
|Pieces (2), Op. 15|