Ralph Vaughan Williams: A London Symphony (1920 version) Concerto for Two Pianos (1926-1931 arr. 1946) Hybrid SACD
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Audio CD, Hybrid SACD
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This enthralling Vaughan Williams programme couples two wonderful alternative versions of great works. Vaughan Williams's two-piano version of his craggy Piano Concerto reinforces its standing as in many ways the link between the Third and Fourth Symphonies. Here the barnstorming piano team of John Lenehan and Leon McCawley with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Martin Yates are thrilling in their traverse of this cherishable score. The programme is completed by the 1920 version of A London Symphony, not recorded since Goossens' wartime 78s. Here, for the first time in modern sound, we have the opportunity of exploring those various moments that RVW deleted from the version generally played.//// Concerto for Two Pianos (1926-1931 arr. 1946) LM JL (Version for two pianos and orchestra by Joseph Cooper in collaboration with the composer) i Toccata (Allegro moderato) - 6:45 ii Romanza (Lento) - 8:45 iii Fuga chromatica, con finale alla tedesca - 11:00 A London Symphony [Symphony No. 2] (1913 rev. 1920) (1920 version) i Lento - Allegro risoluto - 13:17 ii Lento - 14:17 iii Scherzo (Nocturne): Allegro vivace - 7:12 iv Finale: Andante con moto - Maestoso alla marcia (quasi lento) - Allegro - Maestoso alla marcia - Epilogue (Andante sostenuto) - 13:55
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keen to have a modern and decent recording of the Double Piano Concerto. And what a stunning recording it is too. Both pianists were clearly taken with the music and deliver performances that are sensational. The energy with which the work starts is hard to imagine better and they maintain this energy all the way through the piece. I think the slow section at the end of the last movement is one of those Vaughan Williams moments to be treasured, and the soloists play it for all its worth, with real pathos and poignancy.
As I said earlier, I bought the CD for the Concerto, but was totally absorbed by the London Symphony performance. Firstly the 1920 version is now my favourite version. It sounds somehow so complete and all the bars that were cut by Vaughan Williams as he reworked the piece seem to be so essential now I've heard them in the context of this version. I thought the original version was just too sprawling and understood why the composer reworked the symphony from there, but in my opinion he got it totally right in this 1920 version.
Now to the performance. This is now my favourite go to version for this symphony. The Scherzo was electrifying and was played brilliantly by the Royal Scottish, and the pacing of the entire work seemed so natural, allowing all the colours to come out, whilst not letting it drop at any point. The beautiful Lento movement was ravishing, with every climax expertly paced. I have the Yates/Dutton recording of the Fifth Symphony and I also really love this version. I sincerely hope that Yates is planning to record the other symphonies. A personal request would be for No.9, in my opinion an often misunderstood work, but one that I am certain would really benefit the natural way that Yates unfolds his Vaughan Williams. I cannot praise this recording highly enough. The Dutton sound is also magnificent.
The other work on this CD is RVW's Concerto for Two Pianos - actually a 1946 arrangement, in collaboration with Joseph Cooper, of the Piano Concerto of 1931. Some critics have expressed regret that the two-piano arrangement was ever made, but the solo part is an extremely demanding one, full of percussive power, and presaging the anger of the Fourth Symphony which was then brewing in the composer's mind.. The two-piano arrangement is able to stretch this aspect of the concerto beyond the limits of which a single soloist would be capable. It almost beggars belief that the original work was written for Harriet Cohen, whose small hands meant that her range was somewhat limited. Yet the work is not all rage and fury. At its heart is one of RVW's characteristic Romanza movements, with a touch of the nocturne about it, and the tumult of the finale at last subsides to end on a chord as radiant as anything to be found in the Fifth Symphony. The excellent pianists on this recording are Leon McCawley and John Lenehan.
This is a fine recording produced with all the skill we have come to expect of Dutton, and is well-worth acquiring for the Piano Concerto alone which, after all, has not been over-recorded either in its single or two-piano arrangement.
However I am very disappointed with Martin Yates performance of the symphony. To my ears it sounds hectic and shallow. Maybe I'm just too used to Barbirolli. The recording has a slightly metallic edge to it, and the tamtam stroke which marks the climax of the last movement, and indeed the whole symphony, is practically inaudible.
To conclude, I entirely agree with the previous reviewer that the 1920 version of the symphony is the best. The original is a fascinating work, and deserves performances, but I can understand that Vaughan Williams felt the work too prolix and needed trimming; but he undoubtedly threw the baby out with the bathwater in his final revision. Too much beautiful music was lost. I hope the present recording will encourage other conductors to take up the 1920 version of the symphony.