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Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
CD 1 [74:54]
The Wasps - Overture (1909) [8:26]
Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (1938) [16:35]
Oboe Concerto in A minor (1934) [18:14]
Symphony No. 4 in F minor (1907) [31:10]
CD 2 [76:01]
Symphony No. 5 in D (1943) [39:28]
Symphony No. 6 in E minor (1943) [36:27]
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Constantin Silvestri (Wasps; Tallis)
Gerald Jarvis (violin); Robert Growcott (violin); Cedric Morgan (viola); Alan Turner (cello) (Tallis); John Williams (oboe); Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Berglund (Oboe; 6); Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Alexander Gibson (5). Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/ Paavo Berglund (4).
rec. Winchester Cathedral, 5 (Tallis), 6 (Wasps) September 1967; No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, 30 December 1974 (Oboe); No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, 29-30 October 1979 (4); No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, 25-26 May 1982 (5); Kingsway Hall, London, 17-18 June 1974 (6). ADD/DDD
EMI CLASSICS BRITISH COMPOSERS 2161462 [74:54 + 76:01]

 

Experience Classicsonline


A welcome reissue of classic analogue recordings from EMIís formidable RVW back catalogue. Long unavailable, these are for the most part admirable performances and several can stand comparison with the best of their competitors.

The Finn Paavo Berglund has the lionís share of the work here, either with his own Bournemouth Symphony or with the RPO. Berglund will be remembered by collectors for his productive relationship on and off the record with the Bournemouth orchestra; although probably best known for his Sibelius recordings his repertoire also encompassed Shostakovich, Walton, Bliss, Britten and Nielsen. His VW Fourth from 1979 with the RPO is exhilarating, perhaps taking a lead from the composerís own 1937 recording with its dynamically fast speeds. The excellent Abbey Road sound allows for clarity of articulation for the faster string passages together with crushing weight in the big climaxes. Berglund obtains passionate string playing in the first movement - although Slatkinís Philharmonia is, if anything, more involved still - and an anxious, uneasy coda. With a cool, measured second movement and an energetic scherzo building to an ebullient account of the finale this is a classic performance in which the musicís inherent humorous aspects are emphasised more than usual.

Berglundís 1974 Sixth with the Bournemouth Symphony was recorded in the weightier acoustic of Kingsway Hall. This lends extra gravity to a performance which seems to favour power over agility, particularly in the opening Allegro. Pairing this symphony on disc with its F minor counterpart emphasises the similarities in style between the two works. There is also a contrast here between Berglundís powerful, energetic account of the earlier work and his rather hefty approach to the Sixth. Despite this he builds tension well throughout the opening movement and the return of the second theme in its lyrical transformation is memorably done. Berglund steers a relentless course through the repeated triplet figuration of the second movement, and the climax when it comes is pretty shattering. Much of the tension generated is dispersed in the hell-for-leather account of the scherzo, taken at quite a lick. The final Epilogue is, in the last analysis, disappointing; the recording does not allow a true pianissimo and there is a lack of tension in the playing, for all the care that Berglund takes to clarify the strands. Berglund also conducts a fine performance of the Oboe Concerto, which was the original LP pairing for the Sixth Symphony. John Williams steers an able course between the workís pastoral meanderings and more lyrical passages.

Berglundís predecessor in Bournemouth was the Romanian Constantin Silvestri, whose classic accounts of The Wasps Overture and Tallis Fantasia open the first disc. With the rich acoustic of Winchester Cathedral adding its own contribution to the quality of the performances, these are memorable accounts. However, they have been issued on CD before - The Tallis Fantasia most recently on the RVW anniversary box from EMI - so it would have been interesting to hear, for instance, Berglundís account of The Lark Ascending with the RPO and Barry Griffiths, which was the original LP coupling for the Fourth.

Finally, Sir Alexander Gibsonís early digital Fifth, although boasting excellent sound, fails to convey the workís essential rapture. There is a lack of mystery in the opening Preludio, and the modulation to E major for the second subject, which can have a glorious sense of release, is here rather matter-of-fact.† The performance improves as it progresses, however, and Gibson handles the hobgoblins and foul fiends of the scherzo well enough. The Romanza is well done, although a greater sense of forward momentum would not have gone amiss. Although the string playing is luminous, the brass and woodwind chords towards the climax of the movement are untidy. The final Passacaglia sets out a rather meandering course; it needs to sound far more purposeful than here. Given the workís Bunyan-derived inspiration, this Pilgrim would have turned back at the first hurdle! Gibson draws together the strands effectively at the conclusion and the closing string passages are beautifully done.

On the whole then, a worthwhile collection, containing something of a mixed bag of performances; Berglundís Fourth and Silvestriís Tallis are on the highest level, and if the performances of the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies do not always reach this plane itís good to have them restored to the catalogue.

Ewan McCormick

see also Review by Rob Barnett


 




 


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