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VW sy2 HDTT10069

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)
A London Symphony (revised version)
Hallé Orchestra/Sir John Barbirolli
rec. 1957, Free Trade Hall, Manchester
Reviewed as download

Both Boult and Barbirolli were champions of Vaughan Williams and you can hardly go wrong with their recordings; I recently praised the remastering into Ambient Stereo by Pristine of Boult’s 1952 mono recording of the London Symphony; this one from the late 50s was recorded in both mono and stereo by Pye and here we have a beautifully remastered release of the latter from HDTT. The listener will immediately be struck by the depth and immediacy of sound here in the muttering, murmuring opening depicting the awakening of a great metropolis – and the virtual absence of hiss. Barbirolli is alive to the drama of the score, transmuting the potential banality of the vendor’s “’Ave a banana” cry into something monumental, then slipping easily into the lyrical noodlings preceding the beautiful violin solo and string sextet. In truth, I have heard sweeter string playing but it is not a blot and the fortissimo finale to the movement is properly stirring.

The second movement Lento is at first dark and dreamy, evoking swirling fog and shifting perspectives. It is perhaps not too fanciful to find that, written as it was under the shadow of approaching war, under Barbirolli’s hands it is suggestive of some deeper, darker theme yet the noble music of the final three minutes is tinged with consolation. The Hallé might sometimes have been a little slipshod but here their playing is soulful and the soft viola solo concluding the movement is immaculately beautiful. The fugato of the brief third movement "Nocturne" begins delicately and atmospherically, then the second theme is by contrast boldly, even brashly delivered before, as with the preceding Lento, the movement ends softly and enigmatically. Barbirolli catches the grim determination and quiet desperation of the finale before letting rip in the central loud section without the music becoming episodic, knitting the whole together into a coherent narrative, and concluding with a highly effective, very broadly phrased Epilogue.

This is as fine and poetic a reading of a great and innovative English symphony as you could wish to encounter.

Ralph Moore


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