How excellent to see this re-issue. To have a CD containing
an outstanding performance of one of the great English orchestral works,
as well as a few curiosities, all for a bargain price is an offer of
which most sensible people should avail themselves.
At the heart of this disc is the legendarily excellent
performance of the Fifth Symphony. It is Vaughan Williams’ masterpiece
and I cannot think of a finer performance on disc. The pacing is so
sumptuously natural. The climaxes are perfectly placed. When the trombones
enter at the height of the first movement the moment is majestic without
being forced, and very moving. The symphony contains some of the most
beautiful music ever written by an Englishman, and the orchestra plays
it splendidly. The string tone in the central Romanza is gorgeous,
and the wind solos are ravishingly beautiful. At a bargain price it
is head and shoulders above the Naxos version by the Bournemouth Symphony
Orchestra with Kees Bakels.
The other two works on this disc are of less obvious
quality. I must admit to hopeless prejudice against Flos Campi –
the juxtaposition of the chorus, with its heroic connotations, and the
more humble solo viola seems to me a little preposterous. The music
is heavily scented and strongly influenced by Ravel’s soundworld, but
it is shapeless and seems to me a little pretentious. It is clear however
that neither the orchestra or the conductor share my puerile concerns.
The playing is completely committed and it would be harder to imagine
more dedicated advocacy of the work.
The Oboe Concerto, contemporaneous with the Fifth Symphony,
is altogether weaker than the other two works. It chirrups away neatly,
and it suits the instrument well enough, but it is more a performer’s
piece than the audience’s. It amounts up to a whole lot less that the
similarly conceived Strauss concerto for the instrument, written two
years later, and never really resolves the limitations of the lack of
different colours as successfully as Strauss did. Oboe lovers will enjoy
the performance by Jonathan Small.
other Handley Classics for Pleasure releases