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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
'A London Symphony' (1913, rev 1918, 1920, 1936).
Symphony No. 8 in D minor (1955)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Vernon Handley
Rec. Recorded in the Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, 3-4 March 1992.
Stereo DDD
CLASSICS FOR PLEASURE 7243 5 75309 2 7 UK575 3092 [78.00]

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Among the several notable complete recordings of the Vaughan Williams symphonies on CD, the Vernon Handley cycle has always enjoyed a high reputation. This 2002 Classics for Pleasure reissue of nos. 2 and 8 is a fine example of the qualities of both conductor and orchestra in this repertoire and can be recommended without reservation. Like his mentor Sir Adrian Boult, Handley's performances are distinguished by an impressive sense of structure. In the first movement of A London Symphony, for example, the numerous tempo changes are kept within careful bounds in order to ensure that the musical argument remains cogent. It is also clear that the conductor has insisted on scrupulous observance of VW's dynamic markings, so that the magical horn calls above muted strings in the slow movement, for example, are played at a true pianissimo, rather than being romantically indulged, as sometimes happens. The same care is evident in moments such as the great climax at the end of the fourth movement, which is not as overwhelming as in some performances, but rather paves the way, with absolute coherence, for an affecting and supremely eloquent Epilogue.

The playing by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra is of the highest standard throughout, with notable solos taken by the leader and other string and wind section principals. This excellent performance of A London Symphony, in the composer's familiar revised version, is amongst the finest available.

The performance of the Eighth Symphony, a work unjustly underrated when it first appeared, is equally impressive, its Hindemith-like tone and manner effectively underlined. There is a splendid solo here too, in the Cavatina, from the orchestra's leader, Diana Cummings. Comparison with the fine early (1959) Nixa recording by the Symphony's dedicatee, Sir John Barbirolli, and the Hallé Orchestra, still available through Dutton Laboratories/BMG on CDSJB 1021, undoubtedly favours Vernon Handley, by reason of the greater sense of stylistic familiarity evident throughout the latter's performance, and the outstandingly refined playing of the Liverpool orchestra. The exemplary sound recording on the Classics for Pleasure CD is by Andrew Keener. The liner notes on the music, though comparatively brief, are excellent, and the praise of the performances themselves which they contain is fully justified.

Paul Teal

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