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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You think you don't like Vaughan Williams? Think again!, 15 Feb 2013
This review is from: Ralph Vaughan Williams: Symphony 5, 8 (Audio CD)
It's interesting the way orchestras have really good phases and then drop out of fashion for while, then back they come. The same happens with areas of a town - they're 'in' then they're 'out' then they come back into vogue.

Enjoying a totally wonderful come-back to the top of the tree is the Hallé Orchestra. With their present Music Director, Sir Mark Elder, they're bringing out a number of 'Live' recordings, as is becoming increasingly fashionable. On this new CD, of two symphonies by Ralph Vaughan Williams, the first uses largely 'live' material, only topped up with one rehearsal. This technique pays off handsomely. The orchestra plays RVW's 5th symphony with the same joy as one expects to hear in the concert hall, without the safety net of the recording studio to fall back on. The symphony appears so serene and gentle, despite its being composed during the years leading up to the second world war and being premièred in 1943. VW dedicated the work to Sibelius, whom he greatly admired, though never copied.

Forgive me if I say that the music of Vaughan Williams is very much a Marmite experience. I love it. Many just don't "get" it. I feel very sorry for them!

The other symphony on this CD is Number 8. This terribly difficult work (to play) is a studio recording, but still has the exuberance of a 'live' performance, which is much to the credit of both conductor and orchestra. VW dedicated the work to Sir John Barbirolli, with whom the Hallé was so closely involved for so many years and it was he who conducted its première in Manchester in May 1956. It's amazing to remember that Vaughan Williams was in his 80s when he wrote it.

Michael Kennedy writes the CD notes, which explain but don't preach. He ends by reminding us that the 8th and the 4th symphonies are the only two which end loudly!
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vaughan Williams unleashed, 15 Feb 2013
This review is from: Ralph Vaughan Williams: Symphony 5, 8 (Audio CD)
These Halle/Elder recordings keep on coming, and so far I haven't had a single disappointment. That's a bit negative-sounding, so let's say I haven't heard one that's less than superb, and this Vaughan Williams issue keeps the flag flying.
The 5th Symphony is one of the very greatest 20th century symphonies; though it was composed in the darkest days of WW2, it has a profound inner serenity that is very moving and inspiring. There are close links, too, with VW's great project of this period, namely the oepra The Pilgrim's Progress, still to be completed when the symphony was composed. There are strong thematic cross-references between the two works all the way through, but it goes even deeper than that. The first movement seems to glimpse afar off the Celestial City; but when we reach the end of the movement, we are still no closer, despite the peregrinations of the central part. This makes for a deeply satisfying symphonic resolution, when the final, quietly ecstatic pages of the finale are reached.
Wonderful playing from the orchestra; and Elder knows the meaning of 'festina lente' - 'hurrying slowly' - which lies at the heart of, in particular, the outer two movements. He also captures the sinister undertones of the scherzo, and the intense lyrical outpouring of the slow movement.
The recording - made up of a live performance plus a rehearsal session - is near-perfect; I have never heard the precise colour of those muted horns in the 2nd minute of the work caught so beautifully. In one or two moments of the slow movement, the melody line, high up in the violins, is briefly swamped by the mass of sound below, timpani in particular; otherwise, everything comes through just as it should.
The 8th Symphony is a shorter and lighter work; but it is delightful, and illustrates the undimmed creative powers of the octogenarian composer. It has special significance for the Halle, too, having been dedicated to 'Glorious John' (Barbirolli), and they give a wholly idiomatic performance. I particularly enjoyed the outstanding wind playing in the Scherzo (for wind instruments alone).
And younger listeners (and those not-so-young) might be tickled by the 'Harry Potter' hints in the first movement's harmony and orchestration!
Another fantastic achievement from Elder and the Halle.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An important addition to a burgeoning cycle?, 13 Mar 2013
This review is from: Ralph Vaughan Williams: Symphony 5, 8 (Audio CD)
Like many I wondered if, following on from a fine "London" symphony (and a complete "Wasps" incidental music), this might be the next instalment in a complete symphonic cycle. If so, despite a bevy of distinguished competition, I believe it would be a welcome development.

The Halle have a distinguished record in Vaughn-Williams, not least in conjunction with Sir John Barbirolli. Indeed the 8th was dedicated to their distinguished conductor, and he and the orchestra performed the premiere....an excellent tradition which is being maintained here.

Although I enjoyed the 5th I think I relished the 8th even more. It may be because it was recorded in the BBC's Salford studios rather than Bridgewater Hall, and the drier, clearer acoustic suits the brighter outlook of the work. The finale "with all the spiels and `phons" V-W could muster is especially exuberant (and splendidly done here); incidentally, as Michael Kennedy points out in his valuable note, one of only two of his symphonies (the other being the 4th) which ends loudly.

Whither the fifth ? Is it a peaceful response to the ravages of war.....an interlude in the struggle...or a work which disguises some uncomfortable harmonic tensions and dissonances. The first movement always conjures up in my mind clouds crossing an azure sky, whilst the ravishing slow movement never fails to move. Elder understands this music thoroughly and my only slight gripe is, once again, the acoustic of the Bridgewater Hall, which seems "muddy", on my principal hi-fi at least, with a lack of clarity in the lower midrange/upper bass region.

This incidentally is no particular criticism of Halle Records - I find it on BBC broadcasts too. That said my "local" venues, such as the RFH and the Barbican, hardly win many acoustic prizes!

But I mustn't overstate this... I'm sure many will be perfectly satisfied, and please don't be put off... this is an important release and I hope to hear much more V-W from this source.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Contrasting VW Symphonies, 4 Mar 2013
By 
Jack L. Honigman (Manchester, U.K.) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Ralph Vaughan Williams: Symphony 5, 8 (Audio CD)
The excellent notes by Michael Kennedy (who better?) inform us that the composer had felt that he might be "drying up" in the mid-nineteen thirties but was stimulated to begin his Fifth Symphony following his study of the Sibelius recordings which he had requested from Finzi. This work was dedicated to the great Finn, without permission, but drew fulsome praise from Sibelius. While Kennedy insists that not too much influence of Sibelius is found in this work, nevertheless the opening sequence of the first movement might easily have been composed by Sibelius.
An interesting side-light when comparing these two masters, is that Vaughan Williams seems to be reflecting the idyllic English countryside in this composition in the same way that the music of Sibelius so often seems to evoke the large, frozen, open spaces of his homeland. There is no doubt that the horns of the first movement and the cello opening of the fourth, both appear to have a Sibelius flavour.
The coupling of the Fifth Symphony with the Eighth on this CD, is something of a brainwave on somebody's part: the broad sweep of the the earlier work contrasting with the tighter-knit composition of the second with its incorporation of the less conservative vibraphone,xylophone, tubular bells, glockenspiel etc. The dedication to Barbirolli is in keeping with the bustling energy of this piece interspersed with sections of great beauty, for example, in the third movement. The last movement is an energetic, rumbustious finale with everything but the kitchen-sink.
The Halle under Mark Elder gives a splendid performance here. In the Fifth Symphony, the grandeur is impressive in its beauty and the Eighth is always exciting and well controlled.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful Rafe, 11 Mar 2013
This review is from: Ralph Vaughan Williams: Symphony 5, 8 (Audio CD)
Vaughan Williams is not as neglected as his top mate Holst, thank goodness, but it's a close call. After Holst's death VW turned to Gerald Finzi for inspiration (and indirectly to Sibelius) and Ursula Wood appeared on the scene. By this time VW was 70 years old and he had believed that he had 'dried up'. Symphony No 5 has all the sagacity and wisdom of age, fragile in places and heartbreaking too. The Romanza from his Symphony No 5 in D is so glorious I have had it on repeat all morning. I cannot believe that I don't know it. Mark Elder's control is masterly, taken too fast the pathos would be gone, too slow and it would be maudlin. He holds the whole orchestra in a tension which makes you hold your breath (don't forget to breathe!). If you like Sibelius you will love Symphony No 5. Symphony No 8 becomes lighter as it progresses, it is an optimistic work and as such is easier to listen too. Some great brass work here (probably influenced by the absent Holst). A wonderful CD, fresh and new.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Superb Vaughan Williams ...more please, 7 Aug 2013
By 
Robin Barber (Somerset, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Ralph Vaughan Williams: Symphony 5, 8 (Audio CD)
Could this recording be the second of an emerging symphony cycle by the Hallé under the direction of Sir Mark Elder? After hearing this CD and the excellent A London Symphony that preceded it, then I certainly hope so. In a recent radio interview, Elder mentioned that the 3rd (A Pastoral Symphony) has already been recorded so the prospect of all nine seems a possibility now.

Here we have two very different symphonies curiously both originally named as simply symphony in D, with the composer later changing the key of no.8 to D minor.The 5th is largely a live recording from a 2011 concert at the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester with some material patched from a rehearsal, no matter the end result is seamless and with no audience intrusion that I could hear. The result is a warm acoustic slightly recessed but if you have the volume up it really glows. The symphony has a natural forward momentum and Elder's unhurried approach is ideal for the unfolding of this radiant and numinous music. Possibly to my ear there could be a greater tension at the climax of the 3rd movement, for this is the emotional centre of the symphony and when resolved we know we have crossed to the other side. Superb playing from the orchestra in all departments and at the ethereal ending there is that wonderful sense of homecoming and peace that make this one of the greatest of 20th century symphonies.

The 8th is a studio recording made in 2012, the sound here by contrast is brighter and more forward which suits this often exuberant work. In Elder's interpretation this is no "little eighth", a symphonic approach rather than a showpiece concerto for orchestra. The Hallé play magnificently and this is one of the finest recordings of the work I have heard. The first movement's arresting opening from timpani and percussion followed by rising 4ths from a solo trumpet herald a superb set of variations in search of a theme. The spiky scherzo shows off the orchestra's woodwind section to great effect. The slow movement(Cavatina), for strings demonstrates the dynamic range of this recording; the descending cellos after the opening theme are wonderfully captured. There are superb solos from the orchestra's leader and principal cellist respectively. This movement is undoubtedly one of the composer's greatest achievements, often described as looking back to The Lark Ascending and Tallis Fantasia, but in this performance I am reminded also of a much later string work, the Concerto Grosso of 1950. The finale is a tour de force; percussion and timpani returning from the first movement are exciting but not allowed to drown out the rest of the orchestra. This is Vaughan Williams at his least contemplative the ending is one of loud, cheerful optimism captured gloriously in this recording.

Michael Kennedy's liner notes are as ever, detailed but uncomplicated with some fresh insights and a pleasure to read. An excellent CD.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fabulous Recording, 20 Mar 2013
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This review is from: Ralph Vaughan Williams: Symphony 5, 8 (Audio CD)
The other reviewers have said most of what needs to be said but I wanted to add my five stars worth!

The fifth is one of my very favourite pieces of music, the romanza particularly. I have Bryden Thompson and the LSO from 25 years ago and this performance is equally good. I think Mark Elder takes the romanza a little slower but it is full of emotion and the whole symphony is played fantastically well by the Halle.

The eighth was new to me and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it, amazing to think that RVW was in his eighties when he wrote it!

A real treat!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vaughan Williams 5th & 8th, 18 Feb 2013
This review is from: Ralph Vaughan Williams: Symphony 5, 8 (Audio CD)
Vaughan Williams 5th and 8th Symphonies are contrasted here. The 5th is recorded live in the Bridgewater Hall with some patches from rehersal and the 8th is a studio recording in the BBC studios of Media City. There is neither perceptible audience noise in the 5th nor applause. The 5th Symphony premiered during World War II is very serene but the 8th Symphony written in 1953-5 is much more optomistic. The former is scored for conventional orchestra and latter has a variety of more exotic instruments including vibraphone, xylophone, tubular bells and gongs. Excellent notes by Michael Kennedy.
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Ralph Vaughan Williams: Symphony 5, 8
Ralph Vaughan Williams: Symphony 5, 8 by Ralph Vaughan Williams (Audio CD - 2013)
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