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Vaughan Williams: A London Symphony (original version) CD

4.9 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Orchestra: London Symphony Orchestra
  • Conductor: Richard Hickox
  • Composer: Ralph Vaughan Williams, George Butterworth
  • Audio CD (17 April 2001)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Format: CD
  • Label: Chandos
  • ASIN: B00005B54X
  • Other Editions: Audio CD  |  MP3 Download
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 22,952 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. The Banks Of Green Willow
  2. A London Symphony (Symphony No. 2)

Product Description

Product Description

London Symphony Orchestra - Richard Hickox, direction

Amazon.co.uk

Penned between 1911 and 1913 and first heard in May 1914, Vaughan Williams's A London Symphony was dedicated to the memory of George Butterworth (whose ravishing 1913 idyll The Banks of Green Willow opens proceedings here). It's this original version that Richard Hickox and the LSO champion so eloquently on this sumptuous-sounding Chandos issue--and a very different beast it is from VW's final revision of 1933. For starters, there's more than a quarter-of-an-hour of extra material, much of it genuinely inspired and brimful of wondrous poetry. VW's scoring, too, was never more colourful and it's surely not too fanciful to detect many a foreshadowing of Holst's The Planets in particular. More significantly, the work takes on a darker, tragic dimension (nowhere more potently perhaps than in the slow movement) and there's an astonishing passage in the expanded epilogue that even anticipates the opening movement of the 1921 Pastoral Symphony. In hindsight, VW made all the right decisions (the scherzo's second half, haunting though it is, pales next to the shuddering intensity of the revised coda) but no one should miss the opportunity to experience his original thoughts in all their epic sweep and tingling vitality. Utterly compulsive listening then and a "must buy" if ever there was one. --Andrew Achenbach

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Customer Reviews

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Format: Audio CD
This must surely be one of the most important recordings of British music of the decade - if that isn't too rash a judgement to make, only 20 months into that decade. If we are to believe the publicity, this is the only recording which will ever be made of the original version of 'A London Symphony', but no-one will ever accuse Richard Hickox, the LSO and the Chandos engineers of not making the most of this one-off opportunity. The performance is immaculate, and the recording sensationally good, with a wonderful depth and detail of sound. Those who know the work well will probably find the first couple of hearings disconcerting and disorienting. The first movement is its old familiar self, and lures the listener into a false sense of security; thereafter the familiar music veers off from time to time onto strangely unfamiliar paths down which the listener finds himself reluctant to follow, wanting to stay on the old well-trodden route. Initially, I didn't like what was happening: in the slow movement, for instance, we are denied the satisfying resolution of the majestic climax, which in the original version is interrupted and curtailed. My first feelings were: "The old boy was right to revise it!" but after repeated hearings I am beginning to wonder if VW's revisions didn't in some ways reduce the imaginative scope of the work. The revised version is certainly more succinct and more symphonically tidy, but, as they become more familiar with VW's first thoughts, many listeners may begin to feel that he made huge sacrifices when he removed so much of the work. For me, the greatest sacrifice was the stately hymn-tune which this recording restores to the last movement. VW later described it as 'a bad hymn tune', but for me it is one of his most haunting melodies, and I am staggered that its creator could dismiss it so easily. Anyone remotely interested in British music should buy this disk.
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
'You have really done it this time!' wrote Gustav Holst to his friend Ralph Vaughan Williams, congratulating him on the first performance of the famous A London Symphony. VW was dissatisfied with it from the start, thinking it too long and episodic. He revised it several times and it did not reach its definitive form until 1936. VW did not want the original version performed but Ursula Vaughan Williams, the composer's wife, has given permission for this one-off recording. Sadly, we shall never hear it in the concert hall.
The 1913 version lasts just over an hour but what an hour! Richard Hickox and the London Symphony Orchestra give a very broad reading with fairly slow tempi. The playing is wonderful with the quietest pianissimos. The first movement is unchanged but there are restored passages elsewhere. Those in the slow movement are of breath-taking beauty. This movement is now over sixteen minutes long and as played here is an overwhelming emotional experience. All the 'new' passages are memorable and effective at the very least and often strikingly original. Was Vaughan Williams right? Give me the rest of my life with both, then I will tell you.
The lovely rhapsody 'The Banks of Green Willow' by George Butterworth receives an affectionate performance too.
This is a very important and distinguished recording indeed. It is not only historical but gives the listener a unique musical experience which may not be repeatable once it is deleted although I do not think that will be for many years. It is also a great performance in its own right and one can almost feel the dedication that has gone into its production. The notes are excellent and are written by Stephen Connock, who is Chairman of The Ralph Vaughan Williams Society, and by Michael Kennedy who was a friend of RVW and has written an excellent book on his life and works. The recording is superb.
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Format: 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.
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