The Poisoned Kiss – overture; In the Fen Country; Three Portraits from The England of Elizabeth; Fantasia on Sussex Folk Tunes; Bucolic Suite Martin Rummel (cello); Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-pfalz/ Karl-heinz Steffens
SWR C5314 70:38 mins
The Vaughan Williams catalogue is so filled with recordings by English orchestras and conductors that it’s refreshing to hear the music approached from the angle of a related but still different culture. Based in Ludwigshafen and Mainz, this orchestra with its line-up of quality players (among them a superb principal horn and oboe) surely cannot be overfamiliar with any of these works, and it’s intriguing to wonder quite what they make of RVW in roistering English-folksong mode. They respond excellently in any case, and their music director (a former principal clarinettist of the Berlin Philharmonic) conducts with an unobtrusive strength of purpose that mirrors a similar quality in the music itself.
The finest playing is generated by the finest material: In the Fen Country confirms its standing as the first of Vaughan Williams’s quiet masterworks, here graced with beautifully sure solo and ensemble playing to match. Rarities include the Fantasia of Sussex Folk Tunes for cello and orchestra of 1925, likeably performed by soloist Martin Rummel, whose un-hectoring tone and manner unmistakably recall the example of his former teacher, William Pleeth. Not too much can be done with the triteness of the overture to the (notionally) comic opera The
Poisoned Kiss, but at least everyone here tries. And the set of Elizabethan documentary-film ‘portraits’ (Drake, Shakespeare, Queen Elizabeth herself) emerges as a minor creation of genuine substance. Malcolm Hayes