Ultimate Vaughan Williams

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  • CBSO 2020

Wednesday 5th February 2014 at 7.30pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0600

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andrew Manze  conductor

Laurence Jackson  violin

Vaughan Williams: Overture, The Wasps 9′

Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis 15′

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Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending 14′

Vaughan Williams: Job, A Masque for Dancing 44′

“He  rises and begins to round / he drops the silver chain of sound…” When The Lark  Ascending takes wing, so do our spirits. But that’s just one side of the genius  of Ralph Vaughan Williams. Andrew Manze has a special connection with this most  English of composers; tonight he shares the rollicking fun of The Wasps,  the timeless passion of the Tallis Fantasia and, to top it all, Job: a blockbuster of a ballet score that’ll change the way you think about English  music. www.cbso.co.uk


If you like this concert, you might also like:

Mozart and Elgar, Wednesday   19th February

Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto, Thursday   6th March



Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

Click here for full review

…     “Manze has been working his way through the Vaughan Williams symphonies in his appearances with the BBC Scottish Symphony orchestra – their concert  of the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth was one of the highlights of the 2012 Proms. But the main work in this Birmingham concert was not a symphony but what some Vaughan Williams enthusiasts regard as his greatest orchestral achievementJob: A Masque for Dancing. This finely judged performance, marvellously spacious and unhurried, never remotely caricatured, certainly reinforced that view of its stature.

Before it came three of Vaughan Williams’s best-known earlier pieces, which had also underlined the virtues of Manze’s forthright, determinedly unsentimental approach. There was not a trace of schmaltz about the big tune in the Wasps overture, while the outlines of the Tallis Fantasia were firm edged, with no hints of wispy pastoralism.”     …

Available to listen again on iPlayer until 12th February.



Review by John Quinn, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

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…     “The CBSO’s leader, Laurence Jackson was the soloist in the ineffably beautiful The Lark Ascending and he did a splendid job. He played with expert control and no little poetry though even the beauty of his playing couldn’t quite shame the coughers into silence. Andrew Manze accompanied him with all the care and understanding of a fellow violinist and once again his pacing of the music was admirable. The central folk-like section had a nice spring to it and Jackson’s singing tone was a consistent delight. At the end, as the lark spiralled upwards on one final flight of fancy into RVW’s imagined clear summer sky it was possible to forget for a few minutes the gales and rain lashing Birmingham and much of the rest of the UK even as the performance was taking place. I’m sure Laurence Jackson appreciated the sensitive support from his CBSO colleagues; at the end his performance was warmly received – and rightly so.

 Job – A Masque for Dancing was composed between 1927 and 1930. It’s significant that RVW, with his deep appreciation of English cultural heritage, called it a ‘masque’ and not a ‘ballet’; into it he wove several old dance forms such as the Sarabande, the Pavane and the Galliard. The score is compelling on several counts. For one thing the thematic material is memorable – especially such episodes as ‘Sarabande of the Sons of God’, one of RVW’s great, broad tunes. In addition Job demonstrates the composer’s complete command of the resources of a modern symphony orchestra – and here his scoring is lavish, including a large percussion section, two harps, organ and an important saxophone part. Furthermore, it comes from a crucial period in his development. The visionary Sancta Civitas (1925) was just behind him and the Fourth Symphony (1934) and Dona nobis pacem (1936) lay not far in the future. One can hear echoes – or pre-echoes – of all these scores and much else besides in Job which, it seems to me, is a key work in Vaughan Williams’ output.

 This evening’s performance was excellent in every respect. There was a great deal of subtle and sensitive playing to admire, including the persuasive shaping of the Introduction and the Epilogue and the silky strings during ‘Job’s Dream’ (Scene IV). Among many fine solo contributions there was an eloquent oboe solo in the ‘Minuet of Job’s sons and daughters’ (Scene III). The scoring in this episode is marvellously delicate and transparent, recalling Ravel in its pastel colourings; Manze and his players delivered this passage extremely well. A highlight of the entire performance was ‘Elihu’s dance of youth and beauty’ (Scene VII). Restored to his leader’s chair, Laurence Jackson gave a superb account of the radiant violin solo. Here RVW revisits, some 16 years on, the clear blue skies of The Lark Ascending. The relationship between The Lark and this solo was emphasised by the unique opportunity to hear both in such close proximity and played by the same violinist.

 While there is a great deal of beautiful music in Job there are also many passages of great power and even brazen force, the latter chiefly associated with the character of Satan. The moment when, after Job’s patience has snapped under the weight of his trials and he curses God, there is a dread glimpse of Satan sitting on God’s throne (Scene 6) occasions a cataclysmic climax.  The cursing of God was anguished and powerful in this performance but the vision of Satan was overwhelming. Here the organ made a telling impact, pedal reeds deployed, I think, to ram home the point. At the start of this scene RVW’s use of an oily saxophone to represent Job’s comforters is a masterstroke. I think it was bass clarinettist Mark O’Brien who doubled on the saxophone at this point and his wheedling, penetrating playing was just right.”     …



Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

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…     “The CBSO leader Laurence Jackson’s interpretation had a quality once considered quintessentially English – the ability to convey deep emotion through understatement.

His heart was in the music not worn on the sleeve. Jackson’s lark was as lyrical and rhapsodic as one could wish and its chaste beauty was perfectly at home in the work’s dreamy summer landscape.

To begin this all-Vaughan Williams evening Andrew Manze conducted a Wasps overture which fairly fizzed along straight from its opening buzz but with a slow central section lovingly shaped and cultivated rather than left as a patch of generalized pastoral.

The CBSO’s strings excelled in the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis: the interplay between the two string orchestras and quartet section clearly delineated and eloquently articulated.”     …




Review by Ben Norris, UoB Blogfest:

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…    “This concert was part of the CBSO:2020 series, which – as the famous orchestra approaches its centenary in six years’ time – features works composed in the decade leading up to their inaugural concert in September 1920. The Lark Ascending, written in 1914 (initially for violin and piano) and arguably Vaughan Williams’s best known work, therefore formed the centrepiece of the evening. And here, unlike in Fantasia…, that desire for otherness is satisfied absolutely. At the moment, say, where the beautiful solo violin might take a phrase too many, the oboe emerges, pure and defiant. It was in this piece, and the final one, where we heard the CBSO, under Manze’s skilful guidance, at their most dexterous and antiphonally fluent. Laurence Jackson was the soloist, and he did an admirable job with a notoriously delicate part, occasionally sounding hollow or airy, but commendably never dispassionate.

The concert concluded with Job – A Masque for Dancing, which Michael Kennedy (in his excellent programme notes) calls ‘a synthesis of various elements in his [RVW’s] musical personality,’ and it was thus perfectly positioned at the end of the programme. By far the most dramatic and ambitious of the evening’s pieces, Job takes the listener on a journey too nuanced to describe in this short review, but one through which the CBSO led us expertly. Jackson – with the other excellent soloists – found full voice here, making his violin sing sweetly with the nostalgic themes of a composer whose place in the hearts of the British concert-going public appears deservedly secure.”

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