This is not strictly a compilation of what the British would term "light music," for there is music of substantial weight on these two discs: e.g., Vaughan Williams's The Lark Ascending, Butterworth's A Shropshire Lad, and Elgar's Introduction and Allegro, but for the most part, Marriner and his charges offer less weighty fare that is familiar to many classical music-lovers and certainly dear to the heart of Anglophiles like this writer. From Vaughan Williams's perennial favorites, Fantasia on Greensleeves and the English Folk Song Suite, and George Butterworth's nigh-ubiquitous The Banks of Green Willow to less familiar fare like Delius's Serenade (composed to honor the 70th birthday of Frederick Delius) and the suite from Elgar's incomplete opera The Spanish Lady, this compilation of recordings–originally made in 1968, 1972, 1976, and 1979–embodies the spirit of England and does so faultlessly. This is a well chosen and exemplarily executed collection of English orchestral miniatures proffered by a conductor and orchestra whose names have become synonymous with the repertoire.
Set in classical antiquily, Mozart’s "Il re pastore" tells of the thwarted love of Aminta (the innocent ‘shepherd king’ of the title) for the well-born Elisa, and that of the nobleman Agenore for the deposed tyrant’s daughter Tamiri. No less a figure than Alexander the Great resolves these conflicts of private passion and public status. First performed in Salzburg in 1775, Sir Neville Marriner conducts a top international cast in this 1989 production of the opera from Salzburg’s Landestheater.
This two-CD collection offers a strong, masterfully performed selection of Vaughan Williams' shorter orchestral works. All the best-known pieces are here–the Tallis Fantasia, the Fantasia on Greensleeves, The Lark Ascending, Dives and Lazarus–as well as lesser-known but equally beautiful works such as the Norfolk Rhapsody No. 1, the Concerto Grosso and the Oboe Concerto. Disc One is devoted to performances by Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields; on Disc Two, Barry Wordsworth and the New Queen's Hall Orchestra take over, except for one selection–the fiercely dramatic Partita for Double String Orchestra–performed by Sir Adrian Boult and the London Philharmonic. I did not think there could be a more beautiful performance of The Lark Ascending than the one by Boult and Hugh Bean, but the recording here by Marriner and Iona Brown is at very least its equal. For anyone who loves the music of Vaughan Williams, or for anyone who wants to get acquainted with this great and underrated composer, this double-CD set is a must.
If you want a good sampling of Copland's orchestral works, then this 2-CD compilation comes highly recommended, with excellent performances of works such as Appalachian Spring, Quiet City, El Salón México and others. (Presto Classical)