Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 4; Symphony No. 6

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COMPOSERS: Vaughan Williams
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Symphony No. 4; Symphony No. 6
PERFORMER: LPO/Roger Norrington
CATALOGUE NO: 458 658-2
Roger Norrington has applied his admirable ear to the Vaughan Williams symphonies with some fascinating results, and he now tackles the grainiest of the nine. The Third, Fifth and Seventh range in mood from the impressionistic to the exotic. In contrast, these anguished symphonic partners, the Fourth and Sixth, share a bleakness of timbre that reflects their angry message.

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Yet the case is certainly not one of total pessimism. Connoisseurs of the canon will notice how Norrington flags up the inter-symphonic bonds. In the Fourth, his rendering of the third movement distinctly recalls the boisterous play of the Pastoral Symphony’s scherzo. On the debit side, in the finale’s goose-stepping swagger, the choice of untypically slow tempi makes for a rather blunt literalism that fails to match the first movement’s gripping pace and fiercely electrical discharge.

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In the opening movement of the Sixth, the brief respite of lyric melody feels like a bracing reference to the Sea Symphony. Yet what price Whitman in this post-nuclear age? To sinuous counterpoint Norrington brings both colour and clarity; to the whole, a sense of purposeful unity that makes for a compelling reading. Nicholas Williams