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Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)
Symphony No. 4 in F minor (1934)
Symphony No. 5 in D major (1938-43)
London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Colin Davis (4)
Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields/Sir Neville Marriner (5)
rec. 2008, The Barbican, London (4); 1990, Henry Wood Hall, London (5)
ALTO ALC1470 [71]

The RVW 150th Anniversary in October 2022 is to be marked in diverse ways. The discs that promise to blanket the market profusely include whopping sets of familiar components such as Elder’s Hallé cycle, Chandos’ Hickox/Davis nine (just the symphonies, not the buzzing overlay of other works - some actually or pretty much unique), Brabbins for Hyperion (again with rare or unknown works in tow), Boult’s first (1950s) cycle, as lovingly blandished up by Pristine, and EMI’s New Collector’s edition with Handley’s 1990s symphonies as its axle.

Then again there are always isolated outliers. Alto introduce us to two such that never made it to a full complement of nine. At a fairly simplistic level you might take these as the equivalents of Carlos Kleiber’s Beethoven 5 and 7 while the rest of the conducting world had laboured or were labouring over a complete span of Nine. There have always been such rewarding outliers; examples are numerous but include Abravanel’s Sixth, Berglund’s 4 and 6, Gibson’s Fifth, Barbirolli’s Sixth on Orfeo and, across the Atlantic, Bernstein in 4, Stokowski in 4, 6 and 8th, Mitropoulos in 6 and most recently, courtesy of Bandcamp downloads, Ormandy in The Pastoral with the Philadelphians.

The present disc is a one-off joining in holy matrimony of two recordings that slipped surreptitiously past. It’s to the credit of Robin Vaughan’s Alto that they have been conjoined and brought out into today’s sunny uplands. Davis’s Fourth was almost lost in the thickets of a 13-CD LSO Live boxed set (review). Marriner with the (presumably augmented) ASMF saw the light of day thanks to the long defunct Collins Classics, whose catalogue has been the source of so many risen phoenix CDs.

The conflagration of Davis’s Fourth [31:43] might raise a few eyebrows but it defiantly maintains its grip. Inveighing furies drive the first movement but the pulse across all four movements is generally taut and quick. One quibble: I prefer the countermelody in the acrid first movement to blossom naturally and unforced without the sheer hurly-burly calorific intensity that Davis brings. Even so the whole things goes with a glorious swing and this is pointed up nicely in the third movement. The composer’s own reading (on Pearl or EMI or Naxos) is ferocious, but things are even more splenetic with Davis.

Marriner, Leppard and Norrington often recorded repertoire off their accustomed baroque or classical ‘manors’. In Marriner’s case there are Schumann and Tchaikovsky discs for a start. Marriner’s RVW Fifth [39:17] tends towards a harsh, even abrasive sound at anything over mezzo forte by comparison with the Davis Fourth. That may be the reason why it has not surfaced before now. Allowing for that, he imbues the work with lump-in-the-throat tenderness: hands-on …. just. It’s a memorably uncanny effect. Tenderness, for example in the third movement, does not mean slow. The accelerator pedal is applied by Marriner in much the same way as Sargent does in ‘his’ Sixth (review). Marriner seems to cram in incidents which almost overlap one on the other.

The helpful liner notes are by Jeffrey Davis.

This disc is at super budget price and introduces two compellingly characterful readings that disregarded the warning ‘to mind the gap’ and fell undeservedly into a very dark place.

Rob Barnett

Published: October 12, 2022



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