Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 6; Symphony No. 8; Nocturne

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COMPOSERS: Vaughan Williams
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Symphony No. 6; Symphony No. 8; Nocturne
PERFORMER: Roderick Williams (baritone); LSO/Richard Hickox
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10103
These two symphonies make a complementary pair, the Sixth a dark work with thoughts of war and its aftermath, the Eighth a radiant celebration of light. No. 6 has two of the most original slow movements in the repertoire, the first a sinister soundscape dominated by its insistent da-da-dah rhythm, the second, the Epilogue, a profound movement that never rises above pianissimo as its chromatic counterpoint tries to seek resolution in the Symphony’s tonal dichotomy. These are also the most impressive parts of Richard Hickox’s interpretation, underlined by the excellent LSO players. His finale feels a little fast, but it’s close to the composer’s metronome marking and the silent background brings more mystery than Adrian Boult’s hissy EMI account. The two fast movements, the dramatic first and menacing third, equal the bite of Vernon Handley’s CfP recording, though the boominess of the Chandos recording, made in All Saints, Tooting, tends to cloud the tuttis.

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The glistening orchestral colours of No. 8 are less affected by this acoustic anomaly. Hickox captures the work’s elusive mood-swings, between joy and nostalgia, and the players respond with warmth and crystal-clear articulation. The 1956 EMI recording by the work’s dedicatee, John Barbirolli, has an undoubted authenticity and, despite its antiquity, stands up particularly well, now available only on a Dutton transfer.

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Finally, there’s a real treat: the first recording of a recently rediscovered Nocturne, an intensely moving setting of Walt Whitman’s ‘Whispers of Heavenly Death’ composed in 1908. It’s evocatively sung here by Roderick Williams. Matthew Rye