> Ralph Vaughan Williams - Symphony No.4 [RB]: Classical Reviews- March 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Symphony No. 4 [32.57]

A Shropshire Lad [9.55]

Symphony No. 4 1942 [31.45]
NBCSO/Leopold Stokowski
rec from original NBC broadcasts 14 March 1943 (RVW4); 13 Feb 1944 (Butterworth and Antheil). ADD MONO
CALA CACD0528 [74.37]


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This disc is significant not least because the original acetates are the only aural record of Stokowski's performance of these pieces.

In the Symphony Stokowski is by no means as manic as some. Certainly the performance is flamingly impetuous in its accented brass-barking. There is some slushy surface noise and residual clicks but blessedly no sense of a gauzy curtain on the sound. The orchestra play seraphically and the dazed moan of the strings has an almost human quality suggesting the voice of a female choir. There is a slight wobble in the sound at the start of the second movement and there are some coughs. Stokowski could still wring the most extraordinary sound from a string section - as at 2.40 in track 2. He makes the demons of the scherzo cackle and leer and the brass rolls and rattles as never before. We should not forget that the Sixth Symphony was given its premiere recording by Stokowski in 1949 - six years after this NBC broadcast. The Butterworth is rather painfully rendered. The original must have had an off centre spindle hole. Rather a pity that current computer technology is unable to apply the sticking plaster. The recording suffers from bruised sound anyway and there is some coughing.

The Antheil displays anger and a frenzied tragedy which is surely associated with Stalingrad and the Pacific conflict. The music is riven with Shostakovich's protesting accents. Just listen to the flute and side drum episode at 1.57 in the first movement. This shows a straight influence from Shostakovich 7. This is far from untypical. It seems that Antheil denied the influence but it cries out at you from many a corner, page and paragraph. It is none the worse for it but it is at least worth recognising.

This works well as an adjunct to the Sony recording of Stokowski in RVW 6 and Mitropoulos in RVW 4. The liner notes are in the safe hands of Edward Johnson. Cala are to be praised for their candour in noting the technical imperfections of the original acetates.

Rob Barnett

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