Much of the tranquil, mystical material of RVW's 5th Symphony is taken from
his opera based on Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress which also influenced
most of the other sublime liturgical works on this CD. Hickox delivers a
glorious, ecstatic performance of the Symphony, its ebb and flow beautifully
directed - the music often seeming to float ethereally. The scherzo has great
finesse and the lovely Romanza movement is deeply affecting. Although not
quite eclipsing the classic Barbirolli and the much admired Handley performances
(both EMI), this is a front-ranking reading. The radiant, gently rippling
setting for soprano and mixed chorus of The Twenty Third Psalm
shares the same serene quality of the Symphony. It is an arrangement from
The Pilgrim's Progress made by John Churchill in 1953. It is this
work, I guess, and the other items in this enterprising and intelligent programme
that will inevitably decide a purchase rather than the Symphony which must
figure in most people's collections.
The first work in the programme is an a capella version of Valiant-for-truth,
a motet dating from 1940 composed for mixed voices with organ. Bunyan's memorable
words for Mr Valiant-for-truth did not fit into the opera The Pilgrim's
Progress and so it stands alone as a considerable and moving composition
in its own right; the final "trumpets sounding" here ringing out splendidly.
The Pilgrim's Pavement is a processional-style hymn for soprano, chorus and
organ to words by Margaret Ridgeley Partridge with voices mostly in unison,
the organ part echoes the Symphony and The Pilgrim's Progress.
The serene, luminous beauty of Vaughan Williams arrangement for strings of
the Hymn-tune Prelude on Song 13 by Orlando Gibbons is contrasted with the
magnificence of the Prelude and Fugue in C minor for organ and orchestra.
It is a powerful work with links to Job and the Fourth Symphony as well as
references to the Fifth Symphony.
A most impressive album