|1. The Banks Of Green Willow|
|2. A London Symphony (Symphony No. 2)|
The 1913 version lasts just over an hour but what an hour! Richard Hickox and the London Symphony Orchestra give a very broad reading with fairly slow tempi. The playing is wonderful with the quietest pianissimos. The first movement is unchanged but there are restored passages elsewhere. Those in the slow movement are of breath-taking beauty. This movement is now over sixteen minutes long and as played here is an overwhelming emotional experience. All the 'new' passages are memorable and effective at the very least and often strikingly original. Was Vaughan Williams right? Give me the rest of my life with both, then I will tell you.
The lovely rhapsody 'The Banks of Green Willow' by George Butterworth receives an affectionate performance too.
This is a very important and distinguished recording indeed. It is not only historical but gives the listener a unique musical experience which may not be repeatable once it is deleted although I do not think that will be for many years. It is also a great performance in its own right and one can almost feel the dedication that has gone into its production. The notes are excellent and are written by Stephen Connock, who is Chairman of The Ralph Vaughan Williams Society, and by Michael Kennedy who was a friend of RVW and has written an excellent book on his life and works. The recording is superb.
Moral of the story? It's not just about what you're used to. And don't be afraid to question whether all the decisions of your favourite genius are necessarily for the best. How can anything really be judged or measured, especially potentials and possibilities? What, say, if Butterworth hadn't gone to the Somme, where he was shot dead in 1916? As Stephen Connock says in his sleevenotes to this recording, The Banks of Green Willow "becomes the more poignant as we recall the fate of its gifted composer." It does seem pregnant with music yet unheard. Vaughan Williams thought that with his revisions he'd cut out some "bad bits" from his Symphony No. 2. For me, though, some babies definitely went out with the bathwater - and it's wonderful to hear them on this recording.
Worth bearing in mind that both these composers were avid collectors of folksong, and their creative flow was sometimes not so much a matter of originating as of re-expressing, revitalising. Rather than mere production of form, creativity might be better understood in this context in terms of metabolism or moving of energy, of spirit - much as we might experience with others similarly drawing on a folk heritage, such [in music] as Bartok, Holst and Stravinsky, to name just a few.
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