COMPOSERS: Vaughan Williams
LABELS: EMI Eminence
WORKS: Symphony No. 3 (Pastoral); Symphony No. 4
PERFORMER: Alison Barlow (soprano)Royal Liverpool PO/Vernon Handley
CATALOGUE NO: CD EMX 219 2 DDD
This disc brings us remarkably impressive accounts of two of the greatest of all 20th-century symphonies, probably the most violently contrasted in any symphonic canon since Beethoven.
The Pastoral Symphony is a work of extraordinary daring. Containing three slow to moderately paced movements and only a minute of really quick music, it articulates a world of haunting calm.
Far from being the work of easy pastoralism Warlock famously mistook it for, it is a war symphony clinging unforgettably to the sanity of landscape amidst the horrors of Flanders. Handley draws outstanding playing from the RLPO, luminous in its shades of silver and grey, and he performs a difficult feat in providing motion and contrast without disrupting a work of static visionary planes.
The Fourth Symphony presents fewer problems, but its mechanistic structuralism has to be carefully handled. Again Handley triumphs – I have rarely heard the final pages delivered with such heady brutality, while the cool, otherworldly lyricism which provides the main contrasts is hypnotically delivered.
A performance in the very highest class that recalls the composer’s own overwhelming treatment. Anthony Payne