COMPOSERS: Vaughan Williams
LABELS: Dutton Labs
WORKS: Symphony No. 3; Symphony No. 5
PERFORMER: BBC SO/Ralph Vaughan Williams; Hallé Orchestra/John Barbirolli
CATALOGUE NO: CDAX 8011 ADD mono
I’d learned and loved Furtwängler’s Second long before I delved beneath the gritty surface of Vaughan Williams’s Fourth, a work that still occasionally draws a blank. However, once exposed to the obvious commitment, directness and integrity of the composer’s own 1937 recording, any doubts soon vanished. Still, I have to admit that the Fifth strikes me as an altogether finer work, one that compares favourably with the best of Holst, Delius and Elgar.
It’s beautifully performed by John Barbirolli and his wartime Hallé Orchestra, while Michael Dutton’s transfers achieve new-found dynamism at the expense of some clarity. By contrast, Beulah’s Malcolm Sargent anthology sounds very much as it did on 78s and LPs. Postwar recordings of Holst’s Perfect Fool Suite and Britten’s Young Person’s Guide sit comfortably among Coleridge-Taylor’s vigorous Othello Suite, Bax (an oddly discursive Coronation March) and of course Elgar – including larger-than-life performances of Pomp and Circumstance Marches Nos 1 and 4 that milk those tunes for all they’re worth.