Vaughan Williams: Concertos (Chandos)
★★★★ (out of five)
If I had to choose Elgar or VW for a desert island, I know which it would be. Elgar these days seems over-familiar, where Vaughan Williams loses none of his capacity to surprise.
You would not automatically guess that from the opening item on this Toronto Symphony recording, the 1938 Serenade to Music, a flossy piece which is made up of bits of Shakespeare and broderie anglaise. Moving swiftly on, the 1944 oboe concerto is an exquisite wartime consolation, a promise of green fields and scones for tea when all the unpleasantness is over. Sarah Jeffrey’s reading is ideally serene, tinged with just a trace of face-saving scepticism.
Flos Campi, a 1924 viola concerto with added small chorus, fuses the Song of Solomon with the flowers of wartime French fields. The soloist, Teng Li, seems to linger about her business, but the interpretation opens up memorably on second hearing, a reminder of how effective the Toronto Symphony has grown under the departing Peter Oundjian’s baton. The concluding piano concerto, written for Harriet Cohen, receives the most convincing performance of my experience from Louis Lortie — lots of bluff and bluster, but a big composer’s heart beating through and through. A desert island disc, no question.