Warning: check volume
control before pressing "play".
Such is the force with which the Bournemouth
Symphony Orchestra play the anguished
first chord of Vaughan Williamsí Fourth
Symphony. If you had been playing one
of those occasional CDs which has a
generally low dynamic level immediately
before this one (and had therefore turned
the volume control up), at the very
least you would be in for a rude shock
and maybe even some equipment damage.
But do leave the volume control at a
normal level because this is how it
is meant to be. One should no more judge
this Symphony by its first notes than
Das Rheingold by Heda! Heda!
Hedo! (as someone once famously suggested
to John Culshaw) but itís a great start.
Such ferocity is there whenever it is
needed and the tension is maintained
throughout Paul Danielís reading.
Vaughan Williamsí Fourth
Symphony is a key work in his great
and varied cycle. Completed in 1934,
its dissonances shocked audiences because
RVWís music wasnít supposed to be like
that. It is a work to admire rather
than love and the composer even said
that he wasnít sure he liked it but
then added that he meant it. Walton
attended a rehearsal for the first performance
at a time when he was struggling to
complete his First Symphony and is reputed
to have said to a friend, glumly, that
he had just heard the greatest symphony
since Beethoven. In four movements it
is almost classical in form. Whilst
there are moments of relative relaxation,
the overall mood is profoundly disturbing
and has led to suggestions that the
composer was writing of the war which
was beginning to loom; this he denied.
The slow movement, placed second, is
rarely loud but often as disturbing
as the rest of the work and ends with
a questioning cadenza on the flute.
Apparently the composer went back years
later and altered only the last note
of this from F to E. The original can
be heard on his own recording of 1937
but modern recordings, including this
one, generally have the E.
It is worth dwelling
for a moment on the recording which
RVW conducted for two reasons. First,
it is available in a marvellous transfer
coupled with Barbirolliís 1944 recording
of the Fifth Symphony on Dutton - an
essential purchase for anyone interested
in this composer. Secondly, because
critical opinion has generally regarded
this version as unsurpassed in its ferocity.
Not perhaps any more. The composer adopted
faster tempos in all four movements
than Paul Daniel does here but both
have inspired their orchestras to give
everything, and there is an argument
that the music is even more forceful
at slightly slower speeds.
The impact of this
recording is right at the top of the
scale. Allied to tremendously well-played
and committed orchestral performance
is sound quality of stunning immediacy.
The perspective is a close one - take
your seat near the front of the stalls.
Of course, there are other ways and,
for a slightly less uncomfortable experience,
Bernard Haitinkís resolute reading has
much going for it. Interestingly, his
timings are almost identical to Danielís
in all four movements. Sir Adrian Boult
conducted the first performance of this
work and the composer credited Boult
with showing him how the slow movement
"should go". Two recordings
by Boult are also available, the later
of which, made in 1968 is, to my ears,
markedly preferable in terms of both
performance and sound. But, for now,
this is the disc that will be going
in my player whenever I need the kind
of cathartic experience that hearing
this work provides.
There are two fill-ups:
the Norfolk Rhapsody No 1 and
Flos Campi. Both have a pastoral
feeling and they act as a suitable antidote
to the symphony. These are also given
fine performances with Daniel relatively
fleet in tempi, notably in the march-like
theme which bursts into the middle of
the Rhapsody. The contributions of the
viola soloist, Paul Silverthorne and
wordless Bournemouth Symphony chorus
in Flos Campi are excellent.
This relatively extended work (20 minutes)
is a substantial and unusual bonus.
These are times of
plenty for lovers of RVWís music, at
least on disc. Currently one can buy
the whole of Bernard Haitinkís excellent
series in modern sound for under £20
(much to the chagrin of collectors like
me who forked out about three times
as much not too long ago). Both Boult
cycles are available cheaply and Previnís
readings have just resurfaced at bargain
price. Paying £5 for just one of the
symphonies is beginning to look expensive.
Never mind such relative considerations,
in absolute terms this disc is worth
every penny. Although it completes the
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestraís cycle
for Naxos, most of that has been conducted
by Kees Bakels and previously only the
Sea Symphony was under Paul Daniel.
The 4th symphony can be regarded
as the first part of a great trilogy.
At the very least, Naxos should surely
be getting Paul Daniel and the rest
of the team who made this splendid disc
back to record the 5th and
Patrick C Waller
see also review
by William Hedley November
Bargain of the Month