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Peter Warlock once disparagingly commented that the Pastoral Symphony reminded him of a cow looking over a gate - a damning verdict for what must be one of Vaughan Williams' finest works, but understandable as this music doesn't immediately reveal its secrets. Even the composer himself remarked that 'the symphony is in four movements, all of them slow'. However, this symphony is actually one of the composer's most intense utterances - a work that is now recognised as being a elegy for the First World War. Vaughan Williams was on active service in France during World War One and said that the local countryside provided the initial inspiration for this symphony.
Kees Bakels delivers one of the finest interpretations of this work, comparable to Previn's RCA recording from the 1960's. The wonderful Sixth Symphony is also performed superbly by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.
If you want a budget recording of these symphonies, this should definitely be your first choice. However, I also believe that this recording is superior to many full price versions.
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on 5 April 2017
good classical songs
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on 12 February 2009
What is the difference between the merely good and the excellent? How does one interpreter build closely on the work of another, and yet create something new and arresting, that reveals a whole wealth of new wonders? The answer? Perfect attention to detail!

Here Kees Bakels leads the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in performances of Vaughan Williams symphonies that are clearly built on the classic interpretations of Adrian Boult. Yet a whole wealth of new detail has been revealed.

Take the Third , the `Pastoral Symphony'. Adrian Boult gave us instrumental lines floating above Rothko like blocks of orchestra accompaniment. More recently Vernon Handley gave us a rich impressionistic interpretation. Bernard Haitink took the Symphony into the mainstream of European late romantic music, accenting the lyrical argument in the music. Kees Bakels marshals his forces precisely. The music is so focused that it sounds like orchestral chamber music. The contrapuntal relationships between the lines for various instruments and groups of instruments are accentuated . We are given an interpretation that is moving in a neo-classical direction. And why not? It was composed in the 1920's, and not long before Vaughan Williams neo-classically leaning small concerto for Violin and Orchestra.

This is the least `Pastoral' third I have heard. Even in the slowest movement, the second, where so many versions find a glowing evocation of the countryside, this version remains insistent. Not everyone's cup of tea. But the effect this has is to make this the saddest, most mournful version I have heard. This seems appropriate for a Symphony that began as sketches while Vaughan Williams was on active service on the Western Front during the first World War.

The version of the Sixth Symphony here is just as good, with just as much attention to detail. It differs less from Boult's, but then Boult's first recording was stunning. Kees Bakels and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra deliver a performance the composer would have been delighted with. In the first movement the orchestra play the Jazz influenced sections like Jazz, but with classical instrumental , rather than Jazz band technique - Just as Vaughan Williams wanted the music to sound. The elongated quiet ending to the final movement is deftly handled.

Any weak points? The sound is bright and dry, not quite ideal for the Pastoral Symphony, but exactly right for the Sixth.

All in all a five star recording.
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Vaughan Williams’s 1922 wordless war requiem, which commentators now seem to regard his third symphony to be, is one of my favourites. Kees Bakels and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra provide a wonderfully clear interpretation. Its sound quality is very good: the immediacy is very … well, immediate. If anything, Bakels shows that this work is a symphony for (wood)wind. The interpretation is hard-edged too, despite it being one of the longest in my collection. (Boult is the quickest at 33 minutes; Previn the slowest at 38 – Bakels is 37 minutes.)

It could be argued that the second VW symphony on this disc – the sixth – is another wordless requiem after another world war, or is it a march into a new future? Certainly, Bakels’s interpretation of the march at the end of the first movement could be seen as false optimism. (Compare the fifth symphonies of Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky.) And Bakels’s interpretation of the second movement is full of foreboding, the tension of which is released for a while in the third, but which is again reconstructed ready for the contrasting moderato in the epilogue. But despite the fine playing of the excellent Bournemouth Symphony, this interpretation somehow lacks punch – or perhaps I was just in a cold mood when I played it.

All the same, Bakels’s and the BSO’s take on the VW symphonies on Naxos can be wholeheartedly recommended.
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It seems to me that Kees Bakels and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, playing excellently throughout, give us a view of The Pastoral Symphony and the 6th Symphony which enable us to compare them as responses to war. In the First World War Vaughan Williams, in his forties, served in France and saw men die in the ambulance. Many of his friends were killed, including George Butterworth. In the Second World War he was in his seventies. His Pastoral Symphony has an elegaic feel and seems to speak as a requiem. It is slow. It is contemplative and there are many beautifully taken solos, particularly from the violin, double reeds, the natural trumpet and the natural horn. ( a kind of battlefield memory).The wordless singing of Patricia Rozario, in the final movement, is a haunting lament. The Sixth Symphony is full of boiling anger. It starts with a scream that tumbles down through the orchestra. And the symphony ends with a fourth movement in a kind of wraithlike desolation. Vaughan Williams did not want the sixth to be interpreted as a war symphony, but confirmed Shakespeare - "We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded by a sleep."
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on 25 April 2016
Not as difficult as the Fourth, or as gentle as the Second or as inspiring as the Sea Symphony: but good to have, all the same.
Christopher Campling
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on 2 July 2010
English and yet so worldly. A strong individual style; yet sounds linking it to wider Europe. Enjoy it for the tunes, style and emotions it can find. Listen and think - it's time well spent.
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