Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 3 (Pastoral); Symphony No. 5

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COMPOSERS: Vaughan Williams
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Symphony No. 3 (Pastoral); Symphony No. 5
PERFORMER: Rosa Mannion (soprano)LPO/Roger Norrington
CATALOGUE NO: 458 357-2
Decca’s new cycle of the Vaughan Williams symphonies begins very promisingly with this coupling of, reputedly, the two most pastoral of the nine – though the Pastoral itself was inspired by memories of the landscapes of Flanders in the First World War; and the Fifth, written during the Second War, is full of the spirituality of The Pilgrim’s Progress.

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Norrington draws from the LPO strings a lightness of tone which bears fruit in the clarity of the calm polyphony of No. 5, and the momentum of its scherzo; and there is some fine solo playing from the orchestra’s string and brass principals in No. 3, complementing Rosa Mannion’s admirable delivery of the soprano’s distant, wordless laments. In the Third, which RVW wryly described as ‘in four movements, all of them slow’, Norrington clearly understands the need to keep the music moving. But his obvious affection for the Fifth sometimes leads him (in common with many other conductors) to adopt tempi significantly slower than those marked, making the opening sound more like a slow introduction than the beginning of a whole Moderato movement, and forcing some abrupt transitions to the more animated episodes of the Romanza. If even the scholarly Norrington doesn’t attempt Vaughan Williams’s metronome marks, who will? Anthony Burton