Andrew Manze conducts the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic in Vaughan Williams

Andrew Manze has made a superb start to his cycle

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COMPOSERS: Ralph Vaughan Williams
LABELS: Onyx
ALBUM TITLE: Vaughan Williams
WORKS: A London Symphony; Symphony No. 8
PERFORMER: Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Andrew Manze
CATALOGUE NO: ONYX 4155

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In embarking on a new Vaughan Williams symphonic series, Andrew Manze faces stiff competition – there’s already at least half a dozen complete cycles, and two others in prospect. Yet Manze and the Liverpool players offer not only the immaculate tuning and ensemble taken for granted nowadays from this orchestra, but also expressive and atmospheric playing such as has been rarely heard in Vaughan Williams since Adrian Boult’s heyday, all recorded in warm yet naturally detailed sound.

Manze establishes with apparent artlessness the London Symphony’s dreamy opening, making the shock of suddenly being hurled into the bustle of the busy city all the more effective – a coup de théâtre comparable to ‘behold the sea itself’ in Vaughan Williams’s previous symphony. In the slow movement and the following scherzo one hears how much Vaughan Williams absorbed from Debussy’s orchestral Nocturnes (a work greatly admired by VW’s teacher, Ravel); yet such is his imagination that one may also hear a foreshadowing of Holst’s ‘Saturn’ in the final stretch of the finale.

Manze’s understated yet highly sympathetic way with the Eighth reveals something more than just a composer having some fun with extra percussion. The reflective third movement ‘Cavatina’ for strings strikes an unexpectedly deep note – particularly where the harmonies grow cold in a recollection of the song ‘Envoi’ by Vaughan Williams’s beloved and much-missed colleague Holst. A very special recording.

Daniel Jaffé

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