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Vaughan Williams unleashed,
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.