Vaughan Williams: Pastoral Symphony; Norfolk Rhapsody No. 1; Norfolk Rhapsody No. 2; The Running Set

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Vaughan Williams
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Pastoral Symphony; Norfolk Rhapsody No. 1; Norfolk Rhapsody No. 2; The Running Set
PERFORMER: Rebecca Evans (soprano); LSO/Richard Hickox
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10001
In the latest instalment of his Vaughan Williams series, Richard Hickox takes a very broad view of the Pastoral Symphony of 1921. His reading is more than five minutes longer than the 1968 recording by the work’s first interpreter, Adrian Boult; the elegiac second movement alone takes three minutes more. Given the expressive solo playing of the LSO principals and the magnificent sound of the string section in a rich church acoustic, such expansiveness is understandable. But, although the composer once wryly described the piece as ‘in four movements, all of them slow’, his main tempo markings in fact all include the word ‘moderato’; and Hickox’s affectionate lingering obscures the shape of the first and last movements in particular. Nor do Rebecca Evans’s solos in the finale have quite the right remote, floating quality. For a more convincingly paced performance in equally fine sound, Andrew Davis and the BBC SO with Patricia Rozario are hard to beat.

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But this is still a worthwhile disc – not least for the two Norfolk Rhapsodies on folk tunes of 1905/6 (a third has disappeared). The First was drastically revised in 1914 into a coherent narrative, and published in 1925 (though there are some unexplained divergences here from the standard score). The looser Second was withdrawn and partly lost, and makes its first appearance on disc in a completion by Stephen Hogger. Lovers of Vaughan Williams’s music will want to own these fine performances – and may well find Hickox’s Pastoral more persuasive than I do. Anthony Burton