Albion, thanks to its chairman Stephen Connock, has performed miracles with Vaughan Williams's music by publishing transcriptions. Two years ago the label issued a real delicacy from the RVW canon, a transcription for two pianos of the Sixth Symphony, played by Adrian Sims and Alan Rowlands. Rowlands used as the basis of the transcription an arrangement for two pianos made in 1946 — two years before the symphony's premiere — by Michael Mullinar, with certain additions by the composer, and tidied the work up himself. As with Job, a familiar, ground-breaking work is suddenly given new light by being played by unexpected forces. And happily, Job is not the last of Vaughan Williams's orchestral works to be given this treatment. In the pipeline is a recording of the London Symphony arranged for piano.
The great European composers are often available in transcription. Brahms used it as a nakedly commercial means of getting his big works more widely known — and why not? Busoni made a good living out of transcribing some of the great Baroque works. Composers as diverse as Grieg and Ravel wrote for the piano in the first place and then orchestrated — transcribed in reverse, if you like — what they had made. The comparisons between the piano and orchestral versions of works such as Grieg's suite From Holberg's Time, or Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin, are immensely illuminating. It causes one to think that if any piece of orchestral music hasn't been transcribed for piano (or perhaps even organ), it should be at once; and that there are all sorts of piano pieces that ought to be orchestrated.
As well as Albion's role in recording Vaughan Williams's transcriptions, English music is generally well-served by transcriptions. David Owen Norris has recorded Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance marches and Falstaff, to deserved acclaim. My first discovery in this genre in English music was Richard Rodney Bennett's magnificent transcription for two pianos of Holst's Planets. And it is not just the most celebrated works that get the treatment. Vally Lasker, the transcriber of Job, also made a version of one of Holst's least familiar, but most absorbing and original works, his Japanese Suite. All of these repay listening.
The moral of this story is that the casual listener — which most of us are — can always be taken deeper into the heart of a piece of orchestral music by hearing it played on the keyboard. As the recording industry looks for new ideas to stay solvent, perhaps that is one.