Vaughan Williams: A London Symphony (No. 2); Symphony No. 8 in D minor

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COMPOSERS: Vaughan Williams
LABELS: EMI Eminence
WORKS: A London Symphony (No. 2); Symphony No. 8 in D minor
PERFORMER: RLPO/Vernon Handley
CATALOGUE NO: CDEMX 2209 DDD
The delightful Flourish for Glorious John, here receiving its premiere recording, was composed by Vaughan Williams in 1957 in recognition of the many radiant performances of his works by John Barbirolli. Barbirolli’s 1957 recording of A London Symphony (1912/13) remains a classic. These two new recordings, although they have their strengths, cannot quite match Barbirolli’s warmth and insight for the atmosphere of a bygone London of horse-drawn carriages. Slatkin comes close in his tender depiction of the quieter places – especially his portrait of Bloomsbury Square on a misty afternoon – but with his rather breathless tempi in the first and third movements, he misses the opportunity to point up the jaunty ‘cockney’ rhythms. Vernon Handley is more consistently successful.

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Slatkin’s Tallis Fantasia is beautifully played by the Philharmonia strings. His is a more subdued and intimate view; one almost visualises a peaceful cloister, whereas Barbirolli’s classic 1963 reading, although ethereal in its quiet passages, exultantly reaches the cathedral roof. Both are attractive depending on your mood.

Both Slatkin and Handley give first-class performances of the inventive Eighth Symphony – Slatkin’s reading of the Tallis-like Cavatina is radiant. Slatkin also gives an inspiring and sensitive account of RVW’s enigmatic, undervalued Ninth Symphony, rich in associations with Salisbury, Stonehenge and Hardy’s Tess.

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Slatkin’s recordings are warm and spacious, Handley’s bright and detailed. Ian Lace