Compiled from many top recordings made between 1962-94 and with leading exponents of the composer’s music, the full breadth of his oeuvre is on display. From the open spaces of the Norfolk Rhapsody No 1, the buoyant The Wasps, to the folksy arrangement of Greensleeves.
For those new to this music, EMI have included the benchmark recording of Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, conduced by Sir John Barbirolli. Most devotees of English music have this recording and so should you! Rarely has the great score been so effectively realised than under his masterly direction. The composer’s other classic miniature, The Lark Ascending is (like Barber’s Adagio) the work that most defines the composer in the popular mind. Bernard Haitink, the LPO and violinist Sarah Chang turn in a capable performance, but cannot match Hugh Bean with Sir Adrian Boult in ’67. Sir David Willcocks leads us through Five Variants on ‘Dives and Lazarus’, and Vernon Handley looks after The Wasps and Flos Campi.
Then there are the vocal works. In On Wenlock Edge, Ian Partridge is right at home in the spare settings for piano quintet of A.E. Housman’s poems. Anthony Rolfe-Johnson is equally comfortable in the Songs of Travel. Finally, Boult directs the Serenade to Music. This tribute to the composer’s muse is a fitting conclusion to the 2-CD set.