Andrew Manze conducts Vaughan Williams’s Symphony Nos 3 & 4

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COMPOSERS: Vaughan Williams
ALBUM TITLE: Vaughan Williams
WORKS: Symphony No. 3 (A Pastoral Symphony); Symphony No. 4 in F minor
PERFORMER: Andrew Staples (tenor), Rhys Owens (natural trumpet); Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Andrew Manze


While performances and recordings of Vaughan Williams’s A Pastoral Symphony are not now as rare as they used to be, the work’s generally quiet manner and emphasis on rather slow tempos make it elusive to bring off. Andrew Manze’s approach, at once equable and gently intense, produces fine results in the first movement, marked Molto moderato by the composer; Manze’s choice of pacing underlines the molto aspect, but convincingly so. But the Lento moderato second movement is miscued: after an opening of poised loveliness, the phrasing of the viola and cello solo lines is juicily exaggerated, while the recorded balance spotlights these far too closely.

The wordless soprano solo that usually opens and closes the finale is here sung by a tenor, an alternative indicated in the score, and on this evidence a memorably viable one. But the lyrical orchestral peroration that follows sounds disappointingly prosaic here.

With the tone of raging violence that dominates each of its four movements except the slower Andante moderato, the Fourth Symphony is its predecessor’s polar opposite in every respect. Manze keeps a tight rein on all the eruptive orchestral happenings, which is fair enough in principle, and makes for strikingly coherent results. Then again, there’s a sense that the music’s element of sheer anger is a notch underpowered.

An upside throughout is the immaculate quality of the orchestral playing in both works. But there are finer recorded interpretations of A Pastoral Symphony by Mark Elder (Hallé) and, from an earlier vintage, André Previn (RCA).


Malcolm Hayes