I rarely write reviews about Vaughan Williams's music on Amazon.com's pages, only because my direction has been toward more scholarly journals (Sorry, Amazon!), and that's where I would like my writing to be about VW, and I do not want anyone to get hurt, let alone myself or my career. But, I will venture to write a review of this CD, only because I find it quite good, and it takes me back many years, although the recording, packaging, and musicians playing this music are rather new, of course.
I heard the entire Aristophanic Suite on an Angel recording (LP) many years ago with another piano work of Vaughan Williams, the Fantasia on the Old 104th, Quasi Variazione, with chorus, no less, conducted by Boult. Absolutely beautiful! This production by Ashley Wass comes close to what I recall many years ago with VW's more famous and well-known Piano Concerto. Vaughan Williams undoubtedly wrote the Piano Concerto for Harriet Cohen, a very dear and talented friend of his, which must have been during the 1930s or '40s. (Please correct me if I am wrong!) As I understand it, this is the same piece of music as his Double Piano Concerto. The reason why, I have learned, that the Piano Concerto was made into the Double Piano Concerto was that someone made the comment that the single piano was drowned out by the orchestra, hence a double piano concerto needed to be written in order for the piano to be heard over the orchestra. Well, so much for trivia!
I do not think that there is much piano music by Vaughan Williams being produced these days, so this is about as good as it is going to get. The recording itself is very good, and the box and cover art are splendid and pretty, as are the helpful liner notes. Naxos has really come a long way, and this fine CD is representative of their latest efforts. Wass and Company do well in performing the music, and it is wonderful to hear some VW piano music again. When will the Fantasia on the Old 104th - Quasi Variazione with chorus resurface? Something for you performing artists (and Naxos) to think about!
It is a wonderful thing to hear the jovial Aristophanic Suite played through its entirety. On so many recordings, and even concert ventures, and, yes, I speak even about the Proms, the listener is only given the familiar "Wasps" Overture, to the extent that it is often overplayed, with the audience wishing for more to learn its complete story. This music Vaughan Williams wrote when he was an undergraduate at Cambridge to accompany Aristophanes's play "The Wasps," a cynical look at the Athenian legal system. The only thing one may conclude about this music is that this is Vaughan Williams at his youthful best. It must date from the late 1880s or early 1890s, and if one may imagine an aural Monty Pythonesque musical humor at this time, this must be it. One delightful tune is labeled "March Past of the Kitchen Utensils." I mean, is this Frank Zappa's humor a la 1890s Cambridge? You bet!
Lastly, there is the English Folk Song Suite and "The Running Set." The first is a staple of VW repertoire. "The Running Set" I am still not too familiar with, but perhaps that is for you to try out and test, also.
This may be a "must-have" for your collection, because it does contain the entire Aristophanic Suite, which is difficult to find, besides the wonderful Piano Concerto. Do I hear Ravel and the "French polish" that Vaughan Williams received while in Paris in the Concerto? Purchase it and find out for yourself! The fair Naxos pricing is reason enough!
One last pitch, since, as stated in the first paragraph, this all has a bit to do with my career as a music theorist/musicologist/critic - well, here goes: Check out my book on Amazon.com! Enter "Bradley Evans modal" and see what comes up. It should be about VW's Symphony No. 5 in D Major. Another masterpiece to contemplate!
Happy listening to VW on this fine, recent recording! See you in Albion!