Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 5; Symphony No. 9

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Vaughan Williams
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Symphony No. 5; Symphony No. 9
PERFORMER: Bournemouth SO/Kees Bakels
CATALOGUE NO: 8.550738
The Vaughan Williams symphonies are well served on CD, and this new disc of the Fifth and Ninth from the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Kees Bakels enters an already competitive field. If neither performance emerges as a front runner, each will give pleasure, and at budget price the disc certainly offers value for money.

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The recorded sound is both accurate and truthful, if somewhat lacking in atmosphere and bloom; in fact this is not unlike the concert acoustic of the location, Poole Arts Centre, as heard ‘in the flesh’. The opening of the Fifth Symphony, for example, lacks that special atmosphere which the EMI engineers provide for Handley’s splendid performance. This brings an extra dimension which, for all Bakels’s symphonic cogency, he never quite captures. And that remains the essential difference throughout, well though the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra plays.

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The Ninth Symphony, a visionary masterpiece from the composer’s last year, is at last emerging from the shadows to gain recognition as a major work in its own right. Bakels offers a direct interpretation with relatively fast tempi, emphasising the musicstructural strengths, and again he is supported by excellent playing. The unusual scoring features prominent parts for saxophones and flugelhorn, and the superbly layered opening chord creates a very special sound. That sound, again, is more atmospherically captured in the alternative recording, this time by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Davis (coupled with the ballet Job). However, Bakels does generate real symphonic weight, in a worthwhile addition to the catalogue. Terry Barfoot