Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 4 in F minor; Symphony No. 5 in D

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COMPOSERS: Vaughan Williams
LABELS: Teldec
WORKS: Symphony No. 4 in F minor; Symphony No. 5 in D
PERFORMER: BBC SO/Andrew Davis
CATALOGUE NO: 4509-90844-2 DDD
This release enters an increasingly competitive field. It should be said, immediately, that these are top-drawer performances enhanced by beautifully recorded sound, full of detail, with fine all-round perspectives. Davis’s reading of the Fourth Symphony is slower than Slatkin’s fine account on RCA but it is nevertheless exceedingly powerful and full of rhythmic drive. In his thoughtful booklet notes, Christopher Palmer supports the view that a prophecy of war is the correct way to view this violent symphony, pointing out its strongly Germanic overtones (Bach and Beethoven). Indeed the BBC’s rasping, snarling brass suggests all the strident horrors of the war machine. Whereas Slatkin emphasises the sardonic humour, Davis is in real earnest about the bleak savagery of the music.

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The serene Fifth Symphony is a complete contrast. Here Davis adopts a more gentle and articulate approach than Vernon Handley (EMI Eminence), who underlines its strength and passion. Nevertheless Davis’s Romanza unfolds persuasively and with great clarity – the pastoral seamlessly yielding to the mystical and building up to an intensely ecstatic climax. The reading is reminiscent of Barbirolli, although without the rapture of the closing bars of his Romanza. These performances are among the best of available modern recordings. Ian Lace