There are many reasons Arcadia Lost is wonderful, but the major factor is Mark Wigglesworth’s brilliant conducting. I first heard him a few seasons ago in performances of The Marriage of Figaro at the Metropolitan Opera. From the first measures of the overture I realized that this was something out of the ordinary. Something I could call great. What is that? Nobody can say. Beyond the mathematics of precision, tight ensemble within the various orchestral choirs separately and together, the pulse, the phrasing, lies a mystery. The impression remains in this Vaughan Williams and Britten recital. The style is very profound, and the musical heart of the matter brilliantly illumined from beginning to end. The Sydney Symphony Orchestra has had Beecham and Klemperer on its podium, but I hope they know that Mark Wigglesworth is in every way their peer of these two patriarchs. He is by far superior to glossier celebrities like Daniel Barenboim, and New York’s Alan Gilbert, both of whom possess the magical power to transform the Missa Solemnis into a movie score. Wigglesworth is an authentic voice in an inauthentic time, and he makes Sydney one of the prominent music centers of the world.
All the forces on this disc are of the highest quality. I especially admire the slender tone and supple phrasing of Michael Dauth in A Lark Ascending. I greatly admire the golden voice of Steve Davislim, who delivers the most controlled, thoughtful, compelling performance of On Wenlock Edge I know. The Cantilation Choir is magnificent. The impeccable performances of violist Roger Benedict, the Hamer Quartet, pianist Benjamin Martin, the thoughtful program notes of Michael Kennedy, and even the beautiful packaging that, for a change, reflects its contents are admirable. In short, Arcadia Lost deserves honor and recognition. Hooray for the Melba Foundation!