I chose a different order to Chandos’s, beginning at the end with Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro, a full-sounding if subtly varied account, avoiding sentimentality, although there are some moments that need greater personalisation, yet the objective rough-hewn approach is refreshing, the tempo for the Allegro section brisk, brusque even (suits the fugue), the music-making undoubtedly electrifying and swept along, but lacking an emotional core for this listener to latch on to. Late Swallows – Eric Fenby’s sympathetic arrangement of the slow movement of Delius’s String Quartet, the music remaining true to its composer – is rushed somewhat, at least initially, greater nostalgia and darker corners revealed later; and, once again, the playing is superb, as is Ralph Couzens’s recorded sound, which is a treat in itself.
Vaughan Williams’s Tallis Fantasia (opening the disc) is given suitable breadth and dignity, if a little forced/harried at times, although the distant string group is well-managed in terms of perspective in the appropriately ecclesiastical acoustic of St Augustine’s. Herbert Howells’s impressive Concerto for String Orchestra, dedicated to Sir Adrian Boult and recorded by him (and also Vernon Handley), receives the most satisfying and involving performance in this collection, music that arrests from the off in its vigour and intensity, its lyrical charge, whether tuttis or solos, offset by an eloquent and wistful slow movement – very touchingly realised here, Wilson and his musicians infatuated by Howells’s depth of feeling – and a going-places Finale with a gift of a folksy earworm tune that Wilson unfortunately drives through in haste; Boult doesn’t (please see below). Otherwise, Wilson’s is a terrific version. Chandos CHSA 5291 [SACD] is released on February 3.