Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 5; The Pilgrim Pavement; Prelude and Fugue in C minor; Vailant-for-truth; Psalm 23; Hymntune Prelude on Gibbons

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COMPOSERS: Vaughan Williams
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Symphony No. 5; The Pilgrim Pavement; Prelude and Fugue in C minor; Vailant-for-truth; Psalm 23; Hymntune Prelude on Gibbons
PERFORMER: Ian Watson, Malcolm Hicks (organ); Richard Hickox Singers, LSO/Richard Hickox
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9666
Much of the tranquil, mystical material of RVW’s Fifth Symphony is taken from his opera based on Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, which also influenced most of the other sublime liturgical works on this CD. Hickox delivers a glorious, ecstatic performance of the symphony, its ebb and flow beautifully direct, the music often seeming to float ethereally. The scherzo has great finesse and the lovely Romanza movement is deeply affecting. Although not quite eclipsing the classic Barbirolli and the much admired Handley performances (both EMI), this is a front-ranking reading. The radiant setting of the 23rd Psalm shares this same serene quality.

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The violent and pessimistic Sixth Symphony is in stark contrast. Haitink, continuing his acclaimed RVW symphonies cycle, gives a truly impressive reading in superb sound. His opening Allegro has swagger and bravado aplenty and the glorious big tune, great nobility. The Moderato builds wonderfully up to a shattering climax while the scherzo sounds demonic and the Epilogue is chill and mysterious. Haitink closely approaches Andrew Davis’s blistering reading with the BBC SO on Teldec. But this is now the recording of the orchestral version of On Wenlock Edge. Never have RVW’s bells rung so evocatively over Bredon Hill. Ian Lace