A Pastoral Symphony evokes almost a single mood, that of a certain grey English landscape, or so it struck the composer-critic Constant Lambert. Not a flattering remark, but this extreme example of bucolic calm taxed even lovers of the English pastoral style. For that reason, Sym. #3 - the number was added later, as it was to A Sea Symphony and A London Symphony - isn't popular. So it was canny of Chandos and Richard Hickox to add a few enticements.
The Norfolk Rhapsody no. 2 existed in fragments; this is the premiere recording of a reassembled version, around 8 min. long, that has no particular distinction. Better material was included in the First Norfolk Rhapsody - both are based on the composer's gathering of folk songs in Norfolk. The prevailing mood in both tends to be gentle and melancholy, but the First Rhapsody offers some dramatic contrast in a fast section, swelling to a moving climax. Even so, not much variety is offered since the symphony is in the same bucolic vein. The Runner's Set, though, is quick and jolly, being a set of jigs drawn from folk sources. In any event, the fillers are unusual enough, I imagine, to attract RVW fanciers. They are played beautifully, in very good sound.
As for A Pastoral Symphony, I confess that I can't tell one performance from another. The pastel wash remains much the same throughout, as in Delius but lacking Delius's intriguing harmonies. The Wikipedia article informs us that RVW was inspired to write the symphony while serving as a private in the medical corps in France during WW I. He heard a distant bugler play the interval of a seventh - a very small seed of an idea, I must say - and in the finished work there's a trumpet solo in the second movement in tribute to that moment. The symphony can be taken as an elegy of the peace that follows strife; there is no wartime program as such.
When revisiting pieces that I don't get, I keep oping that my interest will be piqued. That distant trumpet solo is certainly evocative. The heavy-footed Scherzo has a modal theme that sticks in the mind. It alternates with some martial music reminiscent of other imperial-sounding marches from that era (the symphony was premiered in 1922). The slow finale features a pentatnoic theme (black keys on the piano) vocalized by a wordless soprano. But in the end, the gray impression that this symphony leaves behind, despite some very adroit handling of its single mood, is due to its lack of melodies. RVW had a strong melodic gift, but he set it aside to accomplish something more abstract - and harder to embrace.
Because of the lovely playing, assured conducting, and excellent sound (as heard in two-channel stereo), I can see why this program from Hickox and the LSO could be a first choice in the symphony.