> Ralph Vaughan Williams - Symphony No.6 [RB]: Classical Reviews- April 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Symphony No. 6 (1948) [32.46]
London Symphony Orchestra/Adrian Boult
rec 23-24 Feb 1949 under auspices of British Council
Scott of the Antarctic (1948) [8.28]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Ernest Irving
rec 1949
Coastal Command: Prelude; Sunderland Goes in Close (1942) [4.52]
BBC Northern Orchestra/Muir Mathieson
rec 7 July 1943, BBC
49th Parallel - Epilogue (1941) [4.23]
London Symphony Orchestra/Muir Mathieson
rec Sept 1943, London
The Story of a Flemish Farm - Dawn Scene (1943) [5.16]
BBC Northern Orchestra/Muir Mathieson
rec 28 Oct 1944, BBC
The Loves of Joanna Godden (1945) [8.40]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Ernest Irving
rec 1947
PEARL GEM 0107 [65.13]


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The Fourth and Sixth Symphonies stand as brothers gazing at each other across the divide marked by the Second World War. Both are turbulent, even violent, works. Both are troubled and both have supple melodic material in emphatic contrast with the furious or bleak throes that surrounds that material. Neither Symphony was written during the war and Vaughan Williams rejected prying suggestions that these works were some wraith of recent international conflicts. Ironically or fittingly the Fifth has a surface and effect that is the most peaceful of the nine alongside the elegiac pastorals of the much under-rated Third.

Boult was by many accounts a fiery individual and something of his temper adds vitality to this, the first ever, recording of the Sixth Symphony. Roger Beardsley has wrought carefully here. The sound quality is excellent for the time as pointed out in the liner notes. The recording travelled as an ambassador for British music across the world and made good progress in the States winning many friends. Notable is the pummelling violence and marine yearning of the first movement and the haunted plutonic epilogue-finale with its Holstian echoes (Neptune) and its lessons learnt from Bax's Sixth Symphony. The Bax also ends in an all-passions drained epilogue although his is a retreat to glistening enchantment rather than Vaughan Williams' concentrated, subdued, cold and world-weary exhaustion. This recording must be counted in the same company as the RVW directed Fourth Symphony. The scherzo is the original one before the composer's rescoring.

The film music extracts are from the 1940s - part of the composer's war work. Scott of the Antarctic is in fact a post-War film. Its use of colour and authentic locations made quite a splash at the time enhanced by the music here transferred from a double-sided Plum label 78. The music is well enough known now but hearing the ingenious use of percussion and the imaginative vocalising by solo soprano (who was she, please?) and by choir this reinforces the evidence that some composers feel greater freedom to experiment in the cinema rather than in the concert hall. The Coastal Command and Flemish Farm tracks are taken from rare BBC discs of the BBC Northern Orchestra (no 'Symphony' in its title in those days) conducted by Muir Mathieson. Coastal Command tends to blandness in the rum-ti-tum Prelude but improves with the section depicting the flying boat going in close to the German raider. It is better encountered in an extended suite on a Cloud Nine CD of British film music. The Dawn Scene from The Story of a Flemish Farm, with its prominent role for solo violin, is poignantly done and is all the more affecting for the later doom-laden climax prophetic of the plot which involves sacrifice and death in Occupied Belgium. Unused 'chips' from this score found their way into the Sixth Symphony. The epilogue from 49th Parallel is quite another matter. This, with its broad stretching romantic epic theme, ascends the same heights as his best concert music of those years. The Joanna Godden scenes are presented in two groups each with a single track of about four and a half minutes. In general this music is soft and unemphatic. Scenes such as Martin drowned at Dungeness and Burning of the sheep have more grit and atmosphere. Several times I thought the music was more in keeping with the threatening Dickensian mists of another marshland - the desolation in which Pip encounters Magwitch.

This is an extremely valuable disc for Vaughan Williams collectors. Never have so many rare vintage film tracks been gathered together. The Symphony is probably in many collections in one of its EMI issues - most desirably the one which includes both the original and the revised scherzo. For the rest you will not find a better way of gaining a still vivid insight into the raw experience of hearing the film scores in their authentic 1940s colours.

Good notes by Lewis Foreman and Roger Beardsley. Sound: mono, of course - surface noise but with clicks and ticks neatly purged.

Rob Barnett

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