Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 5; Norfolk Rhapsody No. 1; The Lark Ascending

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Vaughan Williams
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Symphony No. 5; Norfolk Rhapsody No. 1; The Lark Ascending
PERFORMER: Sarah Chang (violin)London Philharmonic/Bernard Haitink
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 5 55487 2 DDD
Haitink and the London Philharmonic produced splendid recordings of Vaughan Williams’s Sea, London and Antarctic Symphonies for EMI in the Eighties, but a six-year gap ensued before the thread of what one hoped was to be a complete symphonic cycle was picked up. Now that the Fifth has just appeared, the prospects are perhaps brighter, but it must be said that this addition to the series is not quite on the same high level as the earlier issues.

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Haitink builds the majestic paragraphs of the first movement spaciously, then spoils the final climax by pulling back the clinching phrase quite unwarrantably. The sin is compounded by the recording’s over-brassy sonority, which gives undue weight to the previous, non-climactic phrase. The ‘Romanza’ makes a noble impression, but the Scherzo needs a lighter touch and a fleeter foot, as indeed does the Passacaglia’s scherzando variation. The final page achieves the customary rapturous effect, but the performance as a whole does not quite match either Thomson’s or Handley’s outstanding versions. It is good without being special, and the work’s visionary intensity is only intermittently sustained.

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Also included are reliable and poetic interpretations of the first Norfolk Rhapsody and The Lark Ascending. Anthony Payne