Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 4; Mass in G minor; Six Choral Songs – To Be Sung in Time of War

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COMPOSERS: Vaughan Williams
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Symphony No. 4; Mass in G minor; Six Choral Songs – To Be Sung in Time of War
PERFORMER: Richard Hickox Singers, LSO & Chorus/Richard Hickox
No recording of Vaughan Williams’s Fourth Symphony even approaches the composer’s own when it comes to furious energy – at times it sounds rather like the 1987 October hurricane transformed into music. But there are qualities in his own score Vaughan Williams as conductor misses. It isn’t just the dissonance and hard-edged scoring that makes this an unusual work in Vaughan Williams’s output; it’s also one of his most rhythmically adventurous scores. At the same time some of the subtlest writing comes in the quieter passages – especially in the slow movement and the closing pages of the first. Of recent versions those by Vernon Handley and Bernard Haitink have come closest to providing a balanced overview of the Fourth Symphony’s strengths. But this new version goes a step further. Intelligent delight in the quality of writing is matched by a visceral power unmatched in the age of digital recording. I missed something of RVW’s own hectic intensity in the final ‘Epilogo fugato’ – but only there, and Hickox’s firm control ultimately brings its own rewards. After this it’s hard to imagine a more effective contrast than the refined sensuousness of Hickox’s Mass in G minor. No cool detachment here – and no complaints from me either. If the Six Choral Songs – written as wartime morale-boosters – have a more workaday quality, it’s easy to imagine them serving their purpose effectively, and there are occasional intriguing echoes and anticipations of other, more important works. Recordings are first rate, each one ideally tailored to the sound-world of the music; in fact it wasn’t until I looked at the back page of the booklet that I realised that all three works had been recorded in the same location. Now that’s impressive. Stephen Johnson