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Delius • Elgar • Howells • Vaughan Williams: Orchestral Works

Sinfonia of London/John Wilson (Chandos)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Delius • Elgar • Howells • Vaughan Williams
Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis; Howells: Concerto for String Orchestra; Delius: Late Swallows; Elgar: Introduction and Allegro
Sinfonia of London/John Wilson
Chandos CHSA5291 (CD/SACD)   65:33 mins


Sixty years ago the Sinfonia of London under John Barbirolli released a recording of Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis which rapidly gained classic status. John Wilson’s new version with that revived orchestra sets a stunning benchmark for the digital generation.

The sound, engineered by Ralph Couzens, is magnificent. Catching the full resplendency of Vaughan Williams’s multi-part string writing, it also vividly defines the acoustic spaces occupied by the solo quartet and two string orchestra groups. For those listening in stereo or surround-sound to the high definition SACD layers, the dramatic advantages accrue further. While fully relishing the at times dreamy polyphony of Vaughan Williams’s textures, Wilson’s Fantasia has sharp, impassioned edges too, and a telling poignancy in leader John Mills’s solos.

Barbirolli’s LP also contained a vintage account of Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro for Strings, and Wilson’s surging new recording at least matches it. The Sinfonia of London’s string playing bristles with vitality and definition, and Wilson’s slightly more urgent tempos also reap dividends. Howells’s less familiar Concerto for String Orchestra consciously channels the influence of both Vaughan Williams and Elgar. Those who know Howells only by his choral works may be surprised by the biting angularity in much of the concerto’s string writing realised by Wilson’s thrillingly incisive performance. Delius’s Late Swallows is a warmly affectionate bonus track.


Terry Blain