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Arcadia Lost

The Arts Desk (UK) 3 March 2012
Graham Rickson

Vaughan Williams is the more popular name on this unexpectedly brilliant Australian compilation, and one hopes that those tempted by an Antipodean take on The Lark Ascending will stick around for Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem. Wigglesworth’s live performance is magnificently imposing, reminding you of what an uncomfortable listen this piece can be. Britten’s starting point is the climax of the first movement of Mahler 9, and the music which builds after the trombone pedals grows into something genuinely terrifying; Mahler’s ghost is heard again in those major triads fading bleakly into the minor. Britten’s slow, lolloping 6/8 sounds so defiantly un-pastoral, un-English. The Sydney principal trumpet excels in the central Dies Irae, and the work’s equivocal resolution feels suitably uneasy.

A violinist friend recently described studying Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending with her European teacher who, in her words, “just couldn’t see the point” of the piece. Accept it as a sweet, slightly soporific 15-minute rumination and the music usually works its magic. This reading is excellent – Michael Dauth’s pure-toned violin solo is gorgeous, with Wigglesworth’s slimmed down orchestral support a model of discretion. Flos Campi, composed for solo viola, chorus and orchestra is more surprising; the bolder harmonies and Daphnis-inspired choral writing offer plenty of sensual pleasure. As a bonus there’s an eloquent account of the Ravel-influenced song cycle On Wenlock Edge, cleanly sung by tenor Steve Davislim.