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Vaughan Williams: Fat Knight, Serenade to Music, Henry V - Yates

Vaughan Williams: Fat Knight, Serenade to Music, Henry V - Yates

Dutton  CDLX 7328

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Ralph Vaughan Williams: Fat Knight (1929 ed. 2015 by Yates after score to Sir John in Love), Serenade to Music (1938 arr. 1940 for orchestra), Henry V Overture (1934 orch. 2015 by Yates)

James Clark (violin)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Martin Yates (conductor)


Vaughan Williams never completed in full score his seven-movement suite from the opera Sir John in Love, which had as its central character Shakespeare’s Falstaff. He left it in two-piano score with the opera’s working title Fat Knight, and it has become, in effect, a set of instructions for realising the orchestral suite Martin Yates has produced, incorporating the orchestration from the completed opera. The Henry V Overture, until now only known in the original version for band, is recorded in Martin Yates’s idiomatic orchestration, reminding us that Vaughan Williams produced a vivid evocation of the world of Shakespeare’s play that anticipated Walton’s more familiar film music of a decade later. Completing the programme is the orchestral version of the Serenade to Music, composed for Sir Henry Wood’s Jubilee and brilliantly played here by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.

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Review by John Miller - March 18, 2016

Ralph (pronounced "Raif") Vaughan Williams was one of the leading English composers who followed the Late Romantic National school of composition during the transition of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He was renowned for his ability to write in most of the available formats, from full operas to single songs.

Dutton Epoch's new disc of RVW's music has a theme of sorts; works which were either unfinished or where the composer produced several different versions. Two pieces, Fat Knight and the Henry V Overture, are world première recordings, realised or arranged by Martin Yates, who also conducts the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO). The third piece, Serenade to Music (1938), was orchestrated by RVW himself (1940).

Martin Yates, characterized by The Times newspaper as "one of the most exciting and versatile British conductors of his generation” has an evident affinity for RVW. He has already demonstrated this in Dutton Epoch's 'Vaughan Williams – Early & Late Works', also with the RSNO, in further world première recordings (but RBCD), which has been highly praised.

Martin Yates' resurrection of a planned orchestral suite by RVW of his Shakesperian opera 'Sir John in Love' presents a fascinating and delightful "new" work, now to be added to RVW's growing Opus. The working title for the opera, worked upon for most of the 1900s, was 'Fat Knight' a rather blunt reference to Sir John Falstaff, the very obese character who appears in three of Shakespeare's plays and is artistically portrayed on the disc cover. This was soon rejected for the more gracious final title of 'Sir John in Love'. However, RVW prepared an orchestral suite, starting with a version for two pianos, named once more tas 'Fat Night' and probably for run-throughs during composition. As Lewis Foreman's informative commentary in the disc's booklet tells us, the orchestral version was never completed. Yates (2015) was able to use the orchestrations of the opera scores to finish RVW's set of 8 pieces in a suite which broadly follows the progress of the opera.

'Fat Night' is thus a new orchestral experience for lovers of RVW's music. Played at the RSNO's best, there are gloriously full folk melodies about life and love, and others about drinking and other vices, an exquisite version of the Tudor 'Greensleeves', with flute, harp and radiant strings; pompous fanfares from the superb brass choirs to give references to royalty and a soft, darkly moody 'Midnight in Windsor by Moonlight'. RVW's brilliant orchestrations are given full rein by the RSNO under the expertise of Martin Yates.

The 'Henry V Overture' was written for brass band (1933-4), a precursor to Laurence Olivier's wartime film of the Shakespeare play, and probably also as a local historical pageant, common during war time. Four folk tunes, of great strength, majesty and nobility are given here with brilliant effect; Yate's full orchestrations are virtually identical to RVW's own style.

After much pomp and circumstance, the record concludes gently and sweetly with RVW's own orchestration of his choral piece, 'Serenade to Music' (1938), based on texts discussing differences between music and the music of the spheres in Act V, Scene 1 of The Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare. The original version was for 16 leading British singers, as a tribute to RVW's help in their careers; he then produced a version with four singers and chorus, then one of chorus without soloists. The orchestral version (1940) appeared with Sir Henry Wood directing it with the LSO at Queen's Hall. Full of muted colour, and harking to stillness and the beauty of Vaughan Williams' 'Variations on a theme by Thomas Tallis'.

The RSNO have the auditory measure of their venue, the vast Caird Hall, Dundee (1914 and 1923). It is one of their regular visits during their concert seasons around Scotland. Opinions on its acoustics can be affected by the form of music, but for orchestras, The Guardian newspaper opines "easily the best acoustic of any orchestral concert venue". On the basis of Dutton Epoch's team, whose array of microphones can be seen suspended well above the conductor in a booklet photograph, this is indeed a fine venue. Violins on the left, violas central, and cellos to the right. The clean but wide ambiance of the hall is captured superbly with just 4.0 speakers, with a very wide stage - beyond the width of the front speakers - and a deep front-to-back where the various brass batteries are solidly placed, as with all the percussion. My Oppo player listed the Channel Type as 5.1, even on Pure output, and putting an ear to my central found the type is 4.0. There appears not to be notice anywhere on the disc or packaging what the channel type is. Despite the size of the hall, there is no loss of detail, indeed the aural stage layout is so solidly projected that one feels surrounded by the sound as if you were really sitting in the front stalls. Stereo sounds excellent too, despite some of its perspective not being present.

I enjoyed every moment of this disc; the colours of the Vaughan Williams' orchestration, the solidity and brilliance of the brass, the wide range of good tunes, many of them of folk origin, projecting quiet emotions, brilliant thrills and excitement in turn - you can't miss it.

A gem for Vaughan Williams fans, bringing new music - and a great experience for hifi aficionados, plus interest for followers of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Fully recommended.

Copyright © 2016 John Miller and HRAudio.net

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Comment by john hunter - March 22, 2016 (1 of 2)

good to see a small company like Dutton releasing MC SACDs.
I ordered this last week and after this review looking forward greatly to hearing it.
Also ordered the recent Mancini Quad reissue.

Comment by john hunter - June 18, 2016 (2 of 2)

I have to agree with John Miller although not quite top draw VW (save the Serenade which deserves to be heard more frequently in this form), this is a quite delightful disc.

Martin Yates has a love for VW to which the orchestra certainly respond.

Interesting that the Caird Hall in Dundee was chosen.

Generally Chandos uses the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow and Linn the Henry Wood Hall in the same city or the Usher Hall in Edinburgh to record what must be the UK’s most recorded orchestra.

Scotland appears blessed with an apparent surfeit of quality recording spaces.

A lovely open acoustic compared to the more close and bassier Chandos and more similar to the acoustic Linn seems to prefer.

Can one hope for some more VW from this source?
We are badly in need of a decent Sinfonia Antarctica in hi-rez multi channel.

These boys could do it!