Vaughan Williams A London Symphony and Oboe Concerto CD
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Hallé returns with a disc of Vaughan Williams in works chosen to illustrate the full range of colour and highly accomplished playing of the award winning ensemble under its Musical Director, Sir Mark Elder. Latest release for award winning label in the English repertoire at which it excels. Features Hallé Principal Oboist Stéphane Rancourt as soloist. The London Symphony and Oboe Concerto were both personal favourites of the composer and contain some of his finest writing. Vaughan Williams claimed that the Symphony "should stand or fall as 'absolute' music" but, as Michael Kennedy says in the authoritative note which accompanies the disc, in this work direct references to "street cries, the Abbey chimes, the Cockney's mouth-organ and accordion, are raised to the level of great art." The Concerto for Oboe and Strings contains virtuosic writing for the soloist, against exquisite string writing, in a work whose early material derived from sketches the composer had prepared for the Scherzo of his 5th Symphony.
Elder brought out exactly the right sound from the orchestra ... the passages of hobgoblin mystery that stalk through the Scherzo had a kind of Shakespearian earthiness. --The Daily TelegraphSee all Product Description
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Elder doesn't aim for that ideal, however. He gives us strong contrasts - after the hushed opening, the sudden arrival of city activity lands like a cannon shot - along with vivid sound and a focus on detail rather than sweep. The Halle Orch. plays twice as well as it ever did under Barbirolli, and there's nothing to disparage in the performance, which goes along quite enjoyably. But the Edwardian world has left few emotional footprints in this music, so far as I could feel. There's no core of enthusiastic energy in evidence. I don't speak, however, as someone who has kept his ear glued to every recording of the score since thee Flood.
The pairing is appealing - the Oboe Cto. written for the once-renowned Leon Goosens (brother of conductor Eugene), whose twangy nasal tone was a touchstone of British woodwind sound in its day. Barbirolli's wife, Evelyn rothwell, was also an oboist and first chair in the Halle. Here we get the present first char, Stéphane Rancourt, whose technique is first rate, as Lady Evelyn's wasn't exactly. The Oboe Cto. is a wartime work (1944), but like RVW's Sym. no. 5 doesn't betray a response to armed conflict. The wistful first movement is even marked Rondo pastorale, which is the symphony's prevailing mood. Unexpectedly, the soloist isn't given a long, lyrical melody but instead almost constant passagework, a bit reminiscent of the Nielsen Flute Cto.
The composer seems to think of the oboe as a country instrument tooted to keep time for dancing - there's a dance in the second half of the first movement, followed by a brief (2:46 min.) Menuet and Musette as second movement. The finale is the major movement - longer and more complex than the others, with faster toodling on the oboe. But i'm afraid that toodling feels like the operative word throughout. The concerto isn't top-drawer Vaughan Williams, and its movements are too similar in their bucolic lightness.
In all, a recording to buy if you want A London Symphony in updated sound with a sophisticated approach.