Ashley Wass / James Judd

Vaughan Williams: Piano Concerto

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These accounts of four diverse works by Ralph Vaughan Williams are in every way splendid. James Judd clearly knows his way around these scores, and his conducting is as precise and propulsive as it is richly colored and deeply affectionate. His Wasps overture has plenty of snap and bite, while his English Folk Song Suite and The Running Set (another folk song suite in all but name) are bright and colorful. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic responds to the conductor and the music with energy, enthusiasm, and plenty of power, and its playing compares favorably to that of the orchestras of that nation's capital. Pianist Ashley Wass covers himself with glory in his robustly virtuosic but warmly nuanced reading of the English composer's relatively rarely recorded Piano Concerto, particularly in the work's lyrical central Romanza. For dedicated Vaughan Williams aficionados, this disc may not erase memories of Adrian Boult's witty Wasps and muscular English Folk Song Suite, nor Howard Shelley and Vernon Handley's revelatory Piano Concerto, but there is much to savor in Judd and Wass' sleek and insightful performances. Naxos' digital sound is too reserved and recessed to be wholly effective.

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