Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 5; Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis; Serenade to Music; plus Tallis: Why Fum’th in Fight’

COMPOSERS: Vaughan Williams
LABELS: Telarc
ALBUM TITLE: Vaughan Williams
WORKS: Symphony No. 5; Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis; Serenade to Music; plus Tallis: Why Fum’th in Fight’
PERFORMER: Jessica Rivera (soprano), Kelley O’Connor (mezzo-soprano), Thomas Studebaker (tenor), Nmon Ford (baritone); Atlanta Chamber Chorus & SO/Robert Spano
CATALOGUE NO: CD-80676
The booklet describes Vaughan Williams as ‘a gentle bear of a man’, and this disc might almost have been compiled to prove the point. Listening to these lovingly respectful performances, there are few hints of the savagery and vicious humour of the Fourth Symphony. It all sounds lovely – a bit too lovely in fact.

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Granted Robert Spano does bring some urgency to the first climax in the finale of Symphony No. 5, but elsewhere ‘urgent’ is the last word that comes to mind. There’s none of the impassioned quality that makes Barbirolli’s Tallis Fantasia so compelling. Nor is there even a whiff of sulphur for ‘The man that hath no music in himself’ in Serenade to Music. Now and then the phrasing becomes over-careful, as in the big first movement climax. Vernon Handley with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic generally brings subtler colouring, creating a hazy sunset glow over the slow movement’s closing pianissimo. And with Handley the radiant vision of the first movement’s ‘Alleluia’ climax is achieved only after a good deal of troubled searching. Matthew Best’s Serenade. (in the original version with 16 soloists) similarly reveals a good deal more light and shade. Stephen Johnson