COMPOSERS: Vaughan Williams
WORKS: Symphony No. 2 (A London Symphony); Symphony No. 8 in D minor
PERFORMER: BBC SO/Andrew Davis
CATALOGUE NO: 4509-90858-2 DDD
In his renowned exchange with Mahler, Sibelius spoke of the purity of form and profound inner logic which marked his symphonic ideal, but the other countered with ‘No, the symphony must be like the world, all embracing.’ These two creeds may seem irreconcilable, but Vaughan Williams possessed the breadth of vision and intellectual flexibility to encompass both, something which has not always been acknowledged, and it is one of the strengths of this outstanding disc that the all-encompassing Second Symphony, with its picturesque episodes and bold use of the vernacular, is as powerfully symphonic in its urgency as the purer, dialectical Eighth.
The orchestra plays splendidly for Davis, and is captured with warmth and brilliance. This enables the Second Symphony’s finale to build to a dramatic peak which I have rarely heard equalled, and throughout the performance ecstatic interludes and picturesque episodes are always felt as part of a powerful symphonic span.
The Eighth also benefits from Davis’s impressive overview. The opening variations are confirmed as one of the composer’s finest symphonic achievements, and the finale reveals its true mettle – not the casual romp of some interpretations, but a determined outburst of energy and joy for which conductor and engineers have created the perfect sound, weighty yet crystalline. Anthony Payne