Grace Williams / Fantasia On Welsh Nursery Tunes / Groves – Reviewed in 2012

Super Hot Stamper sound for this TAS List title, containing the most famous piece for which Grace Williams is known. The sound is BIG and RICH, two adjectives we rarely apply to a ’70s EMI. Big maybe — lots of EMI’s are big, but the reason you see so few EMI Hot Stampers on our site is that they are usually big in a vague, phasey way, which is a sound I frankly have never seen the need to take seriously, TAS Listing or no TAS Listing. (Screen speakers tend to sound that way to me, and I’ve never been a fan of them either.)

But rich — now that’s a sound we do like! It’s also not shrill and hard like most EMI’s. Instead it’s transparent, lively and tonally correct from top to bottom.

Add it all up and you have a very special EMI record that qualifies for Super Hot Stamper status. You will have a very hard time finding a copy of the album that sounds like the side one here.

Side one does have a little tube smear on the strings, so we took off one plus and are giving it a grade of A++.

Side two is slightly less transparent, not quite as big and a bit recessed compared to side one. It could be a bit warmer as well.

And it comes with super quiet vinyl on side one, Mint Minus to Near Mint (a grade you see very rarely on this site).

All Music Guide

This is the most popular work by the first important Welsh woman composer. It is a lovely and loving treatment of several traditional children’s songs from her native western British country, skillfully and beautifully arranged in the very best tradition of British light music.

Grace Williams (1906 – 1977) was born in Barry, South Wales. Both her parents were schoolteachers, and school music teaching was among her father’s duties. Grace learned to play piano, sometimes accompanying his school choir classes, and in the meantime composed small pieces. In 1920 the great Welsh singing contest, the National Eisteddfod, came to Barry. Grace was bowled over by the event and decided to become a composer. Winning a Morfydd Owen Scholarship enabled her to attend University College, Cardiff. In 1926 she went study at the Royal Academy of Music in London, where her principal teacher was Ralph Vaughan Williams. Another scholarship enabled her to study in Vienna with Egon Wellesz. She remained in London until 1946, when she moved back to Wales and returned to Barry. She lived for the rest of her life.

She wrote this ten- or eleven-minute work in 1940, using eight tunes well-known to Welsh families but practically unknown outside Wales. The model for the work was Vaughan Williams’ Norfolk Rhapsody, which is a similar succession of deftly treated English folk tunes. Another (and much less expected) influence on this work is the Czech composer Bedrich Smetana, particularly his dances from the opera Prodana Nevesta (The Bartered Bride). The orchestral style and the bright, cheery sound of the work overal, are the main similarities to that concert favorite.

The work has a useful and conventional shape, with the brightest, cheeriest tunes flocking to the outer ends of the piece, and the more lyrical, even sad, tunes providing a nice gentle contrast in the middle. American listeners might be teased a bit by a touch of resemblance between a part of the first theme and Yankee Doodle.

The work received its premiere in 1940 on a radio broadcast by the BBC Northern Orchestra (now the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra). It was a great hit, prompting an immediate commercial recording by the London Symphony Orchestra. Appearing during the dark days of World War II it provided a feeling of optimism and cheerfulness. From the time of that disc it has remained Grace Williams’ most popular work.


Side One

Fantasia On Welsh Nursery Tunes
Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra

Side Two

Carillons for Oboe and Orchestra
Fairest Of Stars

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