Following hot on the heels of his truly laudable complete recording of 'The
Pilgrims Progress', Richard Hickox's recording of the Fifth Symphony is a
breath of fresh air in a highly competitive field and if it heralds a complete
cycle, then it is good news indeed. For a start this enterprising conductor
chooses to pair this seminal work with a number of lesser-known pieces, most
of them which have lain unrecorded and unperformed for decades.
I am extremely enthusiastic if the rest of his projected cycle would do the
same. The short hymn 'Valiant-for-truth' is set to a text by John Bunyan
with the haunting words extremely well portrayed by the excellent chorus.
And this is a truly inspired and tautly controlled version of the Fifth Symphony.
The Preludio glows with anticipation and development is remarkably controlled,
aided by a superb recording that focuses on every subtle orchestral nuance.
Hickox's Scherzo is perhaps a shade too swift for comfort although the goblins
and gremlins of Bunyan's imagination are led a merry dance indeed. I was
reminded of Barbirolli's lovable classic 1944 premiere recording when listening
to this deeply felt Romanza, only Hickox has the stupendous soundworld as
a clear advantage. This movement shows the LSO strings at their brilliant
best and I would hesitate to ask if any recording would better this. All
is resolved in sublime beauty and tranquility with a Passacaglia of grandeur
and pomposity, yet also of resignation and tranquility in the face of the
Celestial City. Truly a version to treasure.
'The Pilgrim Pavement' is obviously remarkably underpowered after such great
music, being written on commission for an American Cathedral in 1934. The
soft pastoral sound of the strings make Helen Glatz's arrangement of the
Gibbons Prelude beautifully vivid whilst the celebratory tones of the unrecorded
23rd Psalm recall the more famous 'Old One Hundredth'. The last
word is left to Malcolm Hicks' brilliant virtuoso display in the Prelude
and Fugue in C minor, another rarity. This 'organ concerto' of sorts makes
a truly appropriate end to a disc that should remain as a standard recommendation
for these works.
See also review by Ian Lace