Pastoral Sym/Norfolk Rhap 1/Ru
|1. Norfolk Rhapsody for orchestra No. 2 in D minor|
|2. Symphony No. 3 for soprano or tenor & orchestra ('Pastoral'): 1. Molto moderato - Poco tranquillo - Tempo 1 - Largamente - Tempo 1|
|3. Symphony No. 3 for soprano or tenor & orchestra ('Pastoral'): 2. Lento moderato - Poco tranquillo, tempo rubato - Tempo 1|
|4. Symphony No. 3 for soprano or tenor & orchestra ('Pastoral'): 3. Moderato pesante - Poco animato - A tempo - Presto|
|5. Symphony No. 3 for soprano or tenor & orchestra ('Pastoral'): 4. Lento - Moderato maestoso - Animato - Poco più lento - Tempo 1|
|6. The Running Set, fantasia on jig-rhythms for orchestra|
|7. Norfolk Rhapsody for orchestra No. 1 in E minor|
The understated and hence under-rated Pastoral Symphony, one of Vaughan Williams's most haunting creations, has lacked a definitive recording. Capturing the composer's vision (of a war-torn Great War landscape) across all four movements has so often been the problem--Haitink and Norrington, for example, have much to offer but not the whole package. Vernon Handley with the RLPO has come closest to that, but now Hickox and the admirable LSO take us still closer. There's a natural, unforced flow about this reading that simply works, with orchestral textures beautifully balanced, coloured and recorded. Time and again transitions from section to section are wonderfully handled, and the (unacknowledged) solo contributions are outstanding. In the last movement soprano Rebecca Evans shapes and paces her wordless lines to near perfection. Misgivings? Almost--the daringly broad tempo of the second movement means it clocks in at 10'27", a full two minutes longer than Handley. Hickox's phrasing inevitably sails close to the wind but somehow, magically, things hold together. The Norfolk Rhapsody No.2 (completed by Simon Hogger) is a delightful discovery--wistful and jolly by turns, like No.1, while The Running Set is uncomplicated frivolity--a string of British folk tunes designed for dance. --Andrew Green
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Hickox's interpretive choices serve the music well, and his is likely the best among recent digital recordings. It may be that the introspection and mystery of much of Vaughan Williams' music makes it ideal for listening at home, rather than when seated in a concert hall and distracted by bright lighting and other concertgoers. Pastoral nature music does not do well in a concert hall environment.
The only recording I know of that I can say is better than this is Andre Previn's, with the London Symphony. Previn carefully shapes and sculpts this music, which can easily sound amorphous and directionless. We hear more clearly its themes, paragraphs, and larger structures; his long, unhurried lines allow the music to unfold with utmost naturalness, yet the scherzo still has plenty of energy and a sense of suppressed power. Previn's recording, however, dates from the '70s and sounds a little dry today, but on many systems will still sound quite good. I recall that Thomson's was also good, but haven't heard it lately; Boult's is perfunctory, with poor sound; Haitink's is also rather perfunctory.
For those capable of appreciating the subtle moods and effects of this kind of music, Vaughan Williams' Pastoral Symphony has always been and will always be a highly popular work.
After the visit, Vaughan Williams began to plan a full-scale folk-song symphony. Although such a symphony was never published, he did complete the three Norfolk Rhapsodies in 1905 and 1906, and these were originally planned as the separate movements of the symphony: No. 1 was to have been the first movement, No. 2 the slow movement and scherzo, and No.3 the finale, a march and trio using four folk tunes for its themes. All three of the Rhapsodies were performed during those years and reviewed in the press. But in 1914 the first was heavily revised and the remaining two withdrawn from publication. Two pages of the second Rhapsody and the whole score of the third went missing.
There is evidence of all this in the composer’s scrapbook of folk song material, from contemporary letters, programme notes and concert reviews. But now the Norfolk Rhapsody No 2 has re-surfaced (edited and completed by Stephen Hogger) and expertly recorded here by the late Richard Hickox, we get a clearer picture of how the complete symphony might have sounded. It’s more than possible that the third movement will also be re-discovered one day. Unitl then, other fragments remain of the source material. For instance, Vaughan Williams made arrangements with piano accompaniment of a number of the folk songs collected during that week, including The Captain’s Apprentice and Ward the Pirate, and seven of the field recordings he made in King’s Lynn have survived.