Customer Review

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rivers & Banks of Creativity, 4 Mar 2005
This review is from: Vaughan Williams: A London Symphony (original version) (Audio CD)
Fabulous. A treat for any lover of Ralph Vaughan Williams' symphonies. There are some enthralling and spine-tinglingly beautiful passages which have been cut from the familiar revised version. There is hardly anything in this original version that feels so expendable. For me, the revised edition isn't just more 'coherent' - there are flavours and feels which are simply absent from it. There is more menace, mystery, atmosphere in this original version; like unexpected figures emerging from a fog, shadows shifting in the alleyways... (er, sorry guvner...) It has some abrupt changes, evocative twists and revisitations which help build up a rich sense of place: things you might feel in a real or imagined London. A feeling of "straining... to express just a little too much" which Butterworth spoke of might, paradoxically, give just the right touch. This original version surely is a "Symphony by a Londoner" more than "A London Symphony" as it was honed down to a couple of decades on.
So if you're keen on RVW's revised London Symphony, or generally passionate about his symphonic works, there's a very good chance you will love this original version.
Great applause to Ursula Vaughan Williams [permission], Richard Hickox [conducting] and the London Symphony Orchestra [playing] for this recording.
Splendid that George Butterworth's idyll "The Banks of Green Willow" is on this, given his links with RVW and with this symphony in particular. Butterworth is a notably unsung hero. The Banks of Green Willow is an evocative masterpiece which jaunts along then falls into something that becomes overwhelmingly moving - though I've yet to appreciate the version of it on this recording so much as that on "English Rhapsody", with Mark Elder conducting the Hallé (a disc which includes other orchestral material by Butterworth). There's a particular tempo difference in this Hickox/LSO version which hasn't made for something I've so far enjoyed to the same degree; but it's still exquisite and profound. For me, then, while it was love at first hearing with this version of VW's 2nd, not so with this interpretation of B's Banks (though it's certainly growing on me...)
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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