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VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Symphonies Nos. 5 & 9 Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Kees Bakels Naxos 8.550738 68m DDD




I have always considered the Fifth as Vaughan Williams greatest symphony, in fact the unique combination of powerful musical motifs combined with a rapt and deep serenity is equaled to my mind only in Elgar's even nobler Second Symphony. I had eagerly awaited this next Bakels' release with anticipation after his thrilling and outstanding account of the Seventh Symphony, but must say that I am sorely disappointed by a reading that remains slightly cold and unbalanced to compare with the very best. Bakels and his admirable Bournemouth band come into obvious comparison with a host of homegrown products but I will select Handley and Boult (1953) for sake of outstanding pedigree to be found in both records. The mysticism and permeating holiness that combines most of the Preludio is well caught in Bournemouth although Vernon Handley is just a bit more convincing in his pacing. Bakels lingers and speeds up in gear-change fashion, definitely not a recommended tool in interpreting this magnificent movement. Conversely the Scherzo is fleet and enjoyable with a swiftish tempo set and the angels flying about in merry congregation. However, it is obvious that an inspired Romanza is the kernel of this particular RVW work. Bakels is adequate although the scared music never lifts off the ground in the way Boult's classic 1953 Decca account does (reissued on Belart), but it would be obviously unfair on the Dutchman to expect such astonishing inspiration! To my mind this Naxos release disappoints in the Finale where a combination of fast tempi and disjointed structural moves generally contribute to a cold shower reading which is definitely not in the class of Handley's superbly concentrated LPO account that really wins hands down as a modern version. So not an ideal version of the Fifth! Kees Bakels tends to perform better in the later RVW works (his outstanding Eighth was a case in point) and it is good to have this superb account of the Ninth in the catalogue. The composer was obviously rather concerned with thoughts on the afterlife when writing this work and this mysticism shows in the grandeur and awesome instrumentation of the movements. The Moderato maestoso is finely done and there are some superb interpretative points to be heard in the closing pages of the score. The same goes for the universe-like solemnity of the Andante sostenuto with the BSO strings reaching rapturous heights of inspiration throughout. The mystic Andante tranquillo is also marvellously steered, indeed I would compare it to Handley's similarly awe-inspiring EMI account except Bakels has the better engineering for those final notes that seem to come from outer space. We have become used to Naxos' outstanding notes for this series and this release is no exception as is the wide dynamic range afforded to the music. I'm afraid I cannot recommend Bakels' Fifth as a first-choice but the cheap price prompts me to urge all seasoned RVW enthusiasts to purchase this addenda to their discography for the sake of the fine Ninth which is on offer.


Gerald Fenech

Performance: (No5/No9) /

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Gerald Fenech


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