There are very few CD's that I find as enjoyable and refreshing as this one. All of the pieces on this album are well worth listening to; some of them are pieces with no equal in the entire field of music. This is especially true of the Vaughan Williams that opens this disc. The disc opens with the Greensleeves Fantasia, a stunning arrangement of the ever-popular song that makes it even more elusive and melancholy. Then there is the nearly immortalized "The Lark Ascending", by far my favorite piece on the disc. (Actually, it is second only to the Elgar Cello Concerto (Elgar, Walton: Cello Concertos) as my favorite piece in all music.) You feel yourself being lifted up with the lark while the entire world around you is exploding in beauty and song. Iona Brown's violin solo is tender and affectionate, not to mention Marriner and ASMF's orchestral accompaniment. The English Folksongs Suite is full of fun and humor; Marriner does a fabulous job bringing these qualities out. Written for military band, this suite remains one of Vaughan Williams most popular works.
Following the Vaughan Williams is the music of two less familiar composers - Peter Warlock and George Butterworth. Warlock's Capriol Suite is a bit of a cross between the old and the new. The suite is written with a somewhat "Old English" air; a harpsichord is included. After the soothing Pied-en-lair, the suite concludes with a roar of laughter with the "Sword Dance". Butterworth's "A Shropshire Lad" is dark and gloomy - admittedly one of the least successful songs on the disc. The following "Two English Idylls" are far more satisfying with a sunny atmosphere that is strongly suggestive of the beginning of spring. More successful still is "The Banks of Green Willow." Here the music is strongly nostalgic and lyrical. The climax near the middle is, quite simply, enough to lift you off your feet. After hearing this piece for the first time on this disc several months ago, I will certainly never forget it. Here Marriner and ASMF give us a superb performance that makes the piece all the more unforgettable.
The second disc begins with the music of Frederick Delius, a composer who was strongly impressionistic. In many ways he could be called "the English Debussy" as his music contains many of the elements that Debussy's contains, only it is strongly English, not French. "The Walk to the Paradise Garden" is aptly named, with its gently moving texture. This is probably Delius' most successful composition, one of them anyway. "The Intermezzo and Serenade from Hassan" continues in a relaxing, poetic vein. The following two pieces, "On hearing the first Cuckoo in Spring" and "Summer Night on the River" are both soothing impressionistic paintings that are quite thought provoking. "La Calinda" is livelier while still having Delius' ever-present dreaminess. In many ways, I feel that this is Delius' most successful piece. A real plus in the Delius is Marriner's conducting which wonderfully captures the poetic dreaminess without lapsing into sentimentality.
The disc concludes with the music of Sir Edward Elgar. The Serenade for Strings is one of Elgar's very first compositions. It contains much beautiful string writing. There is a sense of retrospection in this work as if though Elgar was thinking back over his childhood. The following Elegy and Sospiri are both meditative and relaxing, with Elgar's ever-present dark quality - a quality that is sober and introspective without becoming gloomy. The Suite from the Spanish Lady is comparatively sunny and bright. It was taken from sketches originally intended for an opera. The Introduction and Allegro for strings begins with a deep, thoughtful introduction that is followed by a much livelier passage that contains much gorgeous interplay between the strings. It is without question one of Elgar's most successful and popular compositions.
In closing, I strongly encourage anyone interested in having a soothing, relaxing album to buy this CD. Marriner and ASMF give performances that are top-notch, especially in the Vaughan Williams and Delius.