These Decca recordings of Vaughan Williams's complete symphonies appear in a boxed set for the first time ever, and they feature such august personages as sopranos Isobel Baillie and Margaret Ritchie, baritone John Cameron and speaker John Gielgud!
Adrian Boult conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
Apart from his popular Canciones negras, written more than half a century ago, the compositions of the now 87-year-old Montsalvatge (in 1999) have made little impact on the musical public in general: many of his works remain unrecorded – the opera Puss in Boots, the Indian Quartet, the five Invocaciones al Crucificado and the virtuoso Harpsichord Concerto, to name only four. But there are two Montsalvatges – one with a more traditional manner, and a later more trenchant, experimental and individual. From his earlier period comes the Sinfonia Mediterranea, composed three years after the Canciones negras; its lack of fashionable ‘modernity’ tempted him at one time to consider rejecting it completely. I’m glad he didn’t, for it’s an attractive (if slightly overlong), warmly romantic work that includes melodies of a popular cast.
The English, historical-instrument, Baroque ensemble La Serenissima (the term was a nickname for the city of Venice) has specialized in somewhat scholarly recordings that nevertheless retain considerable general appeal, and the group does it again with this release. The program offers some lesser-known composers, and some lesser-known pieces by famous composers like the tiny and fascinating Concerto alla rustica for two oboes, bassoon, strings, and continuo, RV 151. What ties the program together formally is that it covers a range of Italian cities that were becoming cultural centers as they declined in political power: not only Venice (Vivaldi, Albinoni, Caldara), but also Padua (Tartini), Bologna (Torelli), and Rome (Corelli). There are several works by composers known only for one or two big hits, and these are especially rewarding. Sample the opening movement of Tartini's Violin Concerto E major, DS 51, with its unusual phrase construction and daringly chromatic cadenza passage: it has the exotic quality for which Tartini became famous, but it does not rely on sheer virtuosity. That work is played by leader Adrian Chandler himself, but he also chooses pieces for a large variety of other solo instruments: the Italian Baroque was about more than the violin. Each work on the album has something to recommend it, and collectively the performances may make up the best album of 2017 whose booklet includes footnotes.
Adrian Younge is a prolific composer whose brassy, ‘70s-centric arrangements recall the work of soul music legends Isaac Hayes and Curtis Mayfield, and often emulate the soundtracks of blaxploitation movies like Shaft and Super Fly. He’s also a willing collaborator who’s produced music for everyone from Ghostface Killah and the Delfonics to Bilal and PRhyme. Younge’s music was also featured in popular Netflix series Luke Cage and the 2009 film Black Dynamite, a comedy classic starring actor Michael Jai White. Though Younge is clearly the primary voice behind all of his work, he tweaks his sound to suit each artist he pulls into his orbit.