Vaughan Williams, Butterworth

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Butterworth,Vaughan Williams
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: A London Symphony (original version)
PERFORMER: LSO/Richard Hickox
As detailed last month, Vaughan Williams’s dissatisfaction with his London Symphony after its premiere in 1914 led him to make a number of cuts over the following years. That first version, revealed in this one-off recording sanctioned by the composer’s widow, has some 15 minutes’ more music than the one we have come to know.

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Vaughan Williams seems to have preferred to take the scalpel to his Symphony rather than engage in extensive recomposition. Consequently, the new/old music is dotted through the different movements, most notably in the extended coda to the scherzo and at several points through the finale – the Epilogue emerges in a much more spacious form. Yet there is never the feeling of what must have made RVW take the knife in the first place, that some of the episodes can be seen to be too drawn-out. If anything, the result is a gain in grandeur, and of a symphonic breadth that actually pushes the picturesqueness of the work’s ‘old London Town’ side into the background. Or at least that is the impression that Hickox’s beautifully played and recorded reading leaves behind here, an account that takes the resuscitation beyond a mere musicological exercise. The London Symphony was dedicated to George Butterworth, whose warm-blooded folksong fantasy makes an apt filler. Matthew Rye