> Ralph Vaughan Williams - Pastoral Symphony [JP]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872 – 1958)
Pastoral Symphony - Symphony No. 3, (1921)
Norfolk Rhapsody No. 1 in E minor (1906)
Norfolk Rhapsody No. 2 in D minor (1907)
The Running Set (1933)
Rebecca Evans (soprano) (Symphony No. 3)
London Symphony Orchestra/Richard Hickox.
recorded 16 – 18th January 2002 in All Saints’ Church, Tooting, London.
CHANDOS CHAN 10001 [66.26]


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Chandos moves into the 10000 series of discs with the first of the Millennium series, and the third in Richard Hickox’s series of the symphonies of Vaughan Williams. This series is somewhat different than the usual RVW symphonic cycle. For No. 2 we had the original version of the symphony. With No. 4 we had the Mass in G minor added as a fill up, rather than another symphony as is usual in similar symphonic series.

Now we come to No. 3, The Pastoral, and for the fill up, not another symphony, but a recording of the Norfolk Rhapsody No. 2, a world premiere. Evidently there were three Norfolk Rhapsodies one of which has been in the repertoire continually since it was written (No. 1). All three were based upon folk melodies which Vaughan Williams had collected whilst staying in Norfolk. Both No. 2 and No. 3 had their first performances at the Cardiff Festival on 27th September, 1907. The composer withdrew both shortly afterwards, and the score to No. 3 was lost, and remains so to this day. On the evidence of this recording, although it is a very pleasant work, the level of inspiration in the second rhapsody is well below that of the first. It was however well worth recording and I have enjoyed listening to it very much. It is full of folk-like melodies as is its predecessor.

The main work on this disc is a bit of a curate’s egg. In some ways it can hold its own with most of the competition, but in other ways it has almost shot itself in the foot. The playing of the London Symphony Orchestra is superb almost all the way through, with a scherzo which has such vitality and movement that I have not heard better.

It is quite strange that a very small fault can cause consternation, but the horn playing to the end of the slow movement, starting just before 9’00" seems somewhat approximate and one or two notes sound decidedly flat which I find very off-putting on repetition. Part of the problem is Chandos’s recording, which is so clear that it is very unforgiving of such faults. This passage should have been retaken. The other problem is that the soprano soloist at the beginning and conclusion of the last movement does not sound particularly ethereal, and this spoils the otherwise excellent reading of the movement. Again part of this can be laid at the door of the very clear recording quality. By comparison, in many of the competitive versions, the voice is balanced further back to achieve this difficult effect.

I had expected to be able to put this version at the top of the pile, but I find that the concerns which I have, prevent me from a full unrestricted recommendation. The sad part of it is that the interpretation is well up to Hickox’s normal very high standard and in all other ways gave me much enjoyment. Also with the London Symphony Orchestra playing at its currently high standard (except for part of the slow movement mentioned above) this disc could have been a world-beater.

Last, but not at all least, we have another short piece by Vaughan Williams, "The Running Set" a scherzo for orchestra, previously recorded by George Hurst also for Chandos in 1975 in a collection of shorter works by the composer. The later version is the one to have, but only marginally, and the presence of a major symphony on the disc might result in it being better known. I certainly hope so.

Recommended strongly, but with reservations, as mentioned above.

John Phillips

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