Bryden Thomson's Vaughan Williams cycle is highly praised by critics and fans alike and for good reasons: it's consistently good. These are clear-headed readings of all the symphonies. Thomson was a great conductor and his dedication to English classical music should not be ignored. If it weren't for Thomson's authoritive readings, then the works of Arnold Bax or John Ireland wouldn't be as well-known as they are today. Thomson conducting these symphonies is like coming home for Thomson in a sense, because RVW is indeed one the greatest English composer that ever lived. He is the greatest English symphonist that ever lived. In terms of originality, melodic/harmonic content, overall emotional gratification, and influence RVW's symphonies are unparalleled in England. Each symphony is like a sound-world unto itself.
These recordings, all recorded from 1987 to 1990, stand as a testament to Thomson's conducting. Masterful, passionate, and direct are words that I would describe this cycle. To my ears, one thing you can tell about Thomson's conducting is it's very clear and precise. He doesn't give into these symphonies more pastoral qualities, especially symphonies 1, 2, 3, and 5, which in the wrong hands can sound way too textural and lack that dynamic clarity these symphonies need. In this sense, Thomson is heading into Adrian Boult territory. Boult is still, in my opinion, the greatest RVW conductor, but Thomson does a really admirable job in this set.
The audio quality, unlike what another reviewer said, is fantastic. It's very typical of Chandos who I don't expect anything less from. The performances from the London Symphony Orchestra are also superb. Incredibly dynamic playing from the LSO.
If you're looking for a first RVW cycle or looking to suppliment a set or sets you already own, then you will find little wrong with the Thomson/LSO cycle. Highly recommended.
Unfortunately, this set does not contain any extras, but there have been some individual releases from Thomson that will compliment this set quite nicely and thus fully completing the Thomson RVW cycle:
Ralph Vaughan Williams: Norfolk Rhapsody No. 1; In the Fen Country; Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis; etc.
Vaughan Williams: Complete Concertos
Vaughan Williams: Dona Nobis Pacem, etc / Bryden Thomson