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CD Review

Ralph Vaughan Williams

Naxos 8.553955
  • Job: A Masque for Dancing
  • The Lark Ascending (1914)
David Green, violin
English Northen Philharmonia/David Lloyd-Jones
Naxos 8.553955
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Job is based on the Biblical Book of the same name. You know, the pious guy who loves God so much that God throws him to the Devil in some kind of cosmic joke. Job finally gets so tried he cries foul. God jumps in and tells Job that he doesn't realize he's part of the lesson plan. Things get better.

Anyway, the music follows the book of "Job" and has some really powerful and memorable tunes. For anyone who thinks Vaughan Williams is all 'pastoral' this is a wake-up call. The dissonances here a jarring, but that is fitting given we are hearing Satan. On the other hand, I don't think Vaughan Williams could write music that wasn't 'pastoral' at some point or another and you will hear those moments here. (What is meant by 'pastoral'? Well, perhaps, to paraphrase a Supreme Court Justice on the issue of pornography, 'I don't know how to tell you what it is, but I know it when I hear it.') It is also majestic at moments (especially when God appears).

I first fell in love with this music when I heard it on a Boult directed LP (his stereo one, which I do not see currently listed in the Spring/Summer edition, 1997, of Opus). I added the piece to my CD collection as soon as it appeared (on a more expansive one than here on Naxos) with Vernon Handley. Currently I see only three recordings in Opus, this Naxos not yet listed. Anyway, the Handley did not erase memories of the Boult (and that's all that remains, the LP has long ago disappeared). This Naxos disc just about does the job (pun not intended). (And if I could now hear the Boult it might well be that my memory serves me poorly.)

David Lloyd-Jones and his band have a much critically acclaimed recording, also on Naxos, of the Bliss "Colour" Symphony. (I did not appreciate the music, but noted the playing and recording were superlative.) Here, they do it again. They play the music as if it was in their blood. (Come on, now that we think of it, Vaughan Williams, like Elgar, also wrote music that was "English" just like Beethoven and Brahms wrote music that was "Germanic". I know it when I hear it.) The organ sounds natural and I do not see anything in the insert notes that would indicate it was not. The recorded sound is warm, but with delicious detail throughout. Just listen to the weird sax in Scene 6. The solo violin in Scene Seven will call to mind the final piece on this disc, "The Lark Ascending". (Like that segue?) If "The Lark Ascending ain't pastoral, or at least rustic, then I don't know what that means. Damn, this is beautiful music. I can see the fall fields, trees gone yellow and red still blushed with green, and the morning mist rising over the corn. I love living here, and this music is so fitting to Mount Vernon, Ohio. (Sorry, yet another digression.) As you can tell, I found the whole experience of listening to David Green's playing to be a very emotional one. There may be better, but I'd be hard pressed to name one. The sound here, as in the main piece, is warm and yet not lacking in detail. Strongly recommended.

With apologies to my readers who really hate digressions and asides, which pepper this review. I will now warn you that the following message is 'extra-musical' and philosophic in nature. I have now finished talking about the CD. If you read further, you do so at your own risk. With apologies to my readers who consider the "Book of Job" a philosophic masterpiece, I never cared for it. I prefer Ahab's relation with God, even if it is ultimately a fatal one. Best of all, I like Sisyphus:-)

Copyright © 1998, Robert Stumpf II

Trumpet