RALPH VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: The Wasps – Aristophanic Suite; Fantasia on “Greensleeves;” SIR EDWARD ELGAR: Enigma Variations Op. 36 – Kansas City Symphony/ Michael Stern – Reference Recordings HDCD RR-129, 61:11 [Distr. by Allegro] *****:
While the Enigma Variations has a lot of competition on SACD, and the Wasps one SACD, this HDCD-encoded CD is recorded with the highest audiophile sonics Reference Recordings’ Keith O. Johnson could possibly squeeze out of the standard CD format, and it is fine British music of the most colorful sort on top, with superb performances. (Their SACD release Britten’s Orchestra, also with the Kansas City Symphony, won a Grammy for Best Surround Sound.) Perhaps this one will be released in that format eventually.
VW’s Overture to The Wasps is heard on a number of collections, but there are not many versions of all five movements of this suite on standard CDs. It captures the fun and satiric slant of the play by Aristophanes, although without using ancient musical devices or instruments. Instead, there are English folksongs and sea chanties, as well as folk-sounding melodies that were created by VW. I always get a kick out of the movement titled ”March Past of the Kitchen Utensils.”
The conductor here is the son of famed violinist Isaac Stern, and he has his Kansas City forces in top mettle with a rich and detailed performance of the full-length 20 Enigma variations. The notes on the various friends of Elgar who are portrayed in the Enigma Variations are each illustrated with a small drawing by a San Francisco area artist. This disc is the third in the orchestra’s projects for Reference Recordings, of which the first was the music of Sullivan and Sibelius.