Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 4; Flos campi; Norfolk Rhapsody No. 1

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Vaughan Williams
WORKS: Symphony No. 4; Flos campi; Norfolk Rhapsody No. 1
PERFORMER: Paul Silverthorne (viola); Bournemouth SO & Chorus/Paul Daniel
CATALOGUE NO: 8.557276
No matter how often one hears Vaughan Williams’s Fourth Symphony, a good performance can still recapture something of the old sense of stunned surprise. Can the composer of The Lark Ascending really have written this violent, bitter, mercilessly concentrated symphony – and at the age of 60-plus? Paul Daniel and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra leave one with little room for doubt about either the strength of the creative urge behind the Fourth or the composer’s mastery of his new-found ‘modernism’. That’s as true in the ‘Waste Land’ pastoral of the slow movement as in the headlong race to destruction of the final ‘Epilogue’. Along with this is an appreciation of the new kinds of orchestral colour Vaughan Williams evolved for this work: from rasping bass brass to hushed flute and muted trombones at the end of the Andante moderato. A good performance, certainly, and recommendable at budget price. But for a five-star modern recommendation I’ll stick with the recent LSO-Hickox on Chandos. Granted the orchestral sound is a degree or too less acerbic, but Hickox combines furious energy with exceptional grasp of the work’s argument. In his version the first movement’s weird quiet coda still bristles with unresolved tension; Daniel by comparison lets the energy flag a little. As for Flos campi, again this is some way above average – especially Paul Silverthorne’s eloquent playing – but the Balmer-Handley version on EMI has just that bit more mystery and sensuous warmth, and like the Hickox Fourth Symphony it’s beautifully recorded. Stephen Johnson