Friday, 3 September 2010

Vaughan Williams in the USA and France

Here are four interesting performances of the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis by Ralph Vaughan Williams. While he is often thought of as a quintessentially British composer, Vaughan Williams enjoyed considerable success abroad, especially in the USA, where Serge Koussevitzky, Arthur Rodzinski, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Leopold Stokowski and others all performed his symphonies. The most widely-performed of his major works in the USA was certainly the Tallis Fantasia, and there are three performances by American orchestra included here: conducted by Arturo Toscanini in 1945, Leopold Stokowski in 1952, and Bruno Walter in 1953. The fourth performance is conducted by Constantin Silvestri in 1966, with the Orchestre Philharmonique de l'ORTF in Paris.

First, the links (all mp3, 320kbps). Please enjoy, and comment if you like. Please do not post these links on any other websites.

Arturo Toscanini, NBC Symphony Orchestra, 18 November 1945 (Studio 8H)

Leopold Stokowski, His Symphony Orchestra, 3 September 1952 (for RCA)

Bruno Walter, New York Philharmonic Orchestra, 22 February 1953 (Carnegie Hall)

Constantin Silvestri, Orchestra Philharmonique de l'ORTF, 1966

Toscanini's November 1945 broadcast concert with the NBC Symphony Orchestra (from NBC's Studio 8H) is in good sound for the time. Walter's is with the New York Philharmonic: a live concert from Carnegie Hall in February 1953. This has been issued on various labels previously, but those I've heard have transferred the tape significantly sharp – by at least a semi-tone in two cases. Here it has been repitched.

Silvestri's expansive 1966 performance with the ORTF orchestra is particularly interesting, since Vaughan Williams's music was largely unknown in France. This live concert with Parisian players was a year before Silvestri made his famous recording with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in Winchester Cathedral for EMI.

Stokowski performed the music of Vaughan Williams throughout his career. The Leopold Stokowski Concert Register, which lists his concerts up to 1940 ( includes A Sea Symphony in Toronto (13 April 1921), the Pastoral Symphony in Philadelphia (19 and 20 December 1924), and the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis in Philadelphia (15 and 16 October 1926, and 22 and 23 December 1933 in a concert that also included the Fantasia on Christmas Carols). In 1949, he gave the first New York Philharmonic performance of the Symphony No. 6 (following this with a memorable recording) and in 1958 led the US première of the Symphony No. 9, an astonishing account that has been released on CD by Cala.

Vaughan Williams was evidently delighted when Stokowski recorded the Tallis Fantasia for RCA in September 1952. This was his first commercial recording of the work, and a number of later performances survive, notably a sublime studio recording made for the Desmar label in August 1975, when Stokowski was 93 years old (this was briefly reissued by EMI in 1998), and a live performance with the New Philharmonia Orchestra. The 1952 recording, made on 3 September, was with Stokowski and "His Symphony Orchestra", a hand-picked group of New York musicians. Three weeks later, Vaughan Williams wrote to Stokowski:

Vaughan Williams mentioned that he was enclosing "a copy of Tallis' original setting", and in fact he wrote it all out for Stokowski:

This letter and the manuscript were pasted into the front of Stokowski's score of the work, now in the Leopold Stokowski Collection in the Otto E. Albrecht Music Library at the University of Pennsylvania. These images come from the library's website ( Also illustrated there is the first page of Stokowski's copy of the score, with his extensive markings:

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