Vaughan-Williams: A London Symphony; Symphony No. 8; Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra; Andrew Manz. ONYX4155 [75.33]. Release Date: 04/29/2016.
Forty years ago Vaughan Williams' symphonies on record were dominated by Boult, Barbirolli and Previn. Then along came Vernon Handley on the EMI budget label and produced what many feel is the finest set of them all. So were does that leave this new cycle from Andrew Manze?
First of all he has the same orchestra as Handley and the playing of the RLPO has gained in depth and polish over the 25 years or so since those performances were recorded. Manze has also been performing these works around the country and his readings have been collecting glowing reviews.
The first thing that strikes me is his reading of the London Symphony is much more rhapsodic and detailed. Manze brings the impressionistic scoring of the chimes of Big Ben and the hurdy gurdy effects of the street musicians to life, together with the flower girls calling and handsome cabs jingling. Imagine a Turner painting completed by Monet and that is what Vaughan-Williams achieves in this poetic description of a London at the height of the Empire.
The 8th symphony came at the end of VW's life and was premiered by Barbirolli and the Halle in 1956, two years before the composer's death. Two world wars and scoring for films such as Scott of the Antarctic and 49th Parallel had broadened his approach to symphonic writing and the result is more exotic scoring and the use of tuned percussion whilst still presenting the strong melodic sweep that was the VW trademark.
I look forward to collecting this cycle as much as I did the Handley and Boult in bygone days and whilst these famous readings deserve a place in the libraries of British music lovers, so does Manze. The fine playing of the RLPO, warmly recorded with clarity and detail in the Philharmonic hall , Liverpool is yet another reason to purchase. A fine start to the cycle.
Symphony No.2 in G ‘A London Symphony’
1. I. Lento – Allegro risoluto (molto pesante)
2. II. Lento
3. III. Scherzo (Nocturne): Allegro vivace
4. IV. Andante con moto – Maestoso alla Marcia (quasi lento) – Allegro – Maestoso alla Marcia (alla I) – Epilogue (Andante sostenuto)
Symphony No.8 in D minor
5. I. Fantasia (Variazioni senza tema)
6. II. Scherzo alla marcia (per strumenti a fiato): Allegro alla marcia
7. III. Cavatina (per strumenti ad arco): Lento espressivo
8. IV. Toccata: Moderato maestoso