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Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Symphony No. 5 (1943)
Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis (1910)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/André Previn
Rec 6-7 July 1988, Walthamstow Town Hall, London. DDD
TELARC CD-80158 [56.30]

André Previn has contributed some of the most distinguished performances of the Vaughan Williams symphonies ever to have been recorded. This version is his second, post-dating his earlier recording with the London Symphony Orchestra, a performance that continues to maintain a significant position in the catalogue and maintains the praise and affection of all those who know it.

This later performance remains one to be reckoned with, however. The sound is natural and pleasing, with a wide dynamic range that acknowledges the sensitive quiet playing of the orchestra and the abundant subtleties of Vaughan Williamsís visionary score. To judge this there is no need to listen further than the opening phase of the first movement, one of the most beautifully contrived, atmospheric passages in the whole symphonic literature.

Beyond making the observation that Previnís first version remains one of the finest and most radiant of all recorded interpretations of this symphony, there is no need to play off this Royal Philharmonic performance against its illustrious LSO predecessor. For it remains valid in its own right, sensitive to the nuances of the score and alert to the dramatic possibilities also.

The full-toned climax of the first movement is a glorious moment, so too the impassioned climax of the slow movement, building inexorably out of the music from the House Beautiful scene in the (as yet unperformed) opera The Pilgrimís Progress. The scherzo is well pointed, full of darting rhythms and with careful attention to the musicís dynamic range.

As so often in symphonic music, it is the finale that justifies the particular drama, its development and characteristics. Here the realisation that the return of the opening theme of the work is the crucial moment is as natural a result as one can imagine; clear testament to Previnís deep understanding of this glorious and visionary score.

The performance of the Tallis Fantasia is splendid too, although here too it is possible to argue that other performances, notably Barbirolliís (EMI) are more ardent still. But the RPO string players create a most pleasing sound: restrained and noble, rich and full, as required.

Terry Barfoot

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