Symphony 3 "Pastoral" & Symphony 5 Import
These are two of Vaughan Williams's greatest symphonies. (Some think his Fifth is his best.) The Third Symphony (1922), subtitled "The Pastoral Symphony," brings to mind the lush imagery of the English countryside and is filled with heartbreaking melodies. (It was written in part while the composer was in the service in WWI.) His Fifth Symphony (1943) is an outgrowth of the music from his great opera, The Pilgrim's Progress, eventually published in 1951. In part, the symphony is a return to his warmer style, a turn away from the acerbic Fourth Symphony, which the public hated. And, yes, it probably is his greatest symphony. --Paul Cook
It's hard to imagine now, with excellent recordings by Previn, Haitink, Thomson, Handley, Slatkin and Hickox, but for a while it seemed that even a major symphonist like Vaughan Williams might disappear from the repertoire once Boult was gone, as few others were recording his music. Fortunately this was not the case, but even with all these fine recordings, one always returns to Boult, who still sets a certain standard in the interpretation of these great works.
This disc is an especially nice offering to the person who may be just exploring the music of Vaughan Williams as it pairs two of his most accessible symphonies, both of a Pastoral character. Though it is also reasonable to pair one of these with one of his Modernist Symphonies for the sake of showing his breadth of style, these two seem to go so well together, to complement each other and present a side of Vaughan Williams that can immediately appeal to people who are familiar with him mostly through his short works for orchestra. Each of these gentle and pastoral symphonies was composed after one of the World Wars and are sometimes seen as an expression of relief and the hope for peace that followed each of the two great conflagrations.
The Third Symphony, so evocative of the English countryside, was actually composed in Northern France during the composer's war service, but its gentle imagery is appropriate to any leafy country setting. The prevailing mood is calm, misty, and dreamy with the music smoothly gliding and swelling in the composer's characteristic fashion, a style he perfected after his studies with Maurice Ravel. The Second Movement is particularly touching, with a lone trumpet seeming to play in the distance, a quiet and lonely reverie, inspired by a bugle call heard from a distance during the war. When Vaughan Williams died in 1958, a friend attending him and his family immediately sprang to the roof of his house and played this trumpet melody to announce the passing of the great composer. This movement is followed by a rousing Moderato and then ends with a movement which includes a wordless soprano part, a quiet but sad theme, a wordless prayer for those slaughtered in the Great War.
The Fifth Symphony is equally both an evocation of a pastoral countryside and a reaction to yet another great war. It climaxes in its third movement (Romanza) which is intensely solemn and prayer-like, enveloping one in a radiant warmth. It is one of the composers most noted and successful passages. The Symphony ends on a triumphant note of hope and redemption.
This disc is highly recommended, and a person wanting to explore more of Vaughan Williams can buy the complete set of symphonies from which these two are taken. The sound is good, if not digital, but anyone who loves Classical music knows that if one restricted oneself to only digital recordings, you would miss far too many of the greatest performances of all time.
The Third symphony (Pastoral) also has a similar feeling of reflection. It is odd that it was written in France during the First World War while Vaughan Williams was in the ambulance corps. I think of it as hearkening back to a time before the war when the French countryside, now blasted by shells, was a peaceful place.
These recordings are among the best conducted by Sir Adrian Boult, and although they date from the early 1950s they have been so beautifully remastered that it will not matter they are not digital recordings. The subtle orchestral shadings in both symphonies are magical and have rarely been caught so precisely. A must for those interested in Vaughan Williams�s music.