> Vaughan Williams Symphony 5 Handley [AT]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Flos Campi (1925) [24.14]
Oboe Concerto (1944) [17.41]
Symphony No. 5 (1943) [39.17]
Christopher Balmer, viola
Jonathan Small, oboe,
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir (chorus master Ian Tracey)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Vernon Handley
Rec. Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, September 1986 and 30 November/1st December 1990
EMI CLASSICS FOR PLEASURE 72435753112 [79.22]


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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.

Aidan Twomey

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