Andrew Manze / Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra

Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 5; Symphony No. 6

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The cycle of Vaughan Williams symphonies by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra with conductor Andrew Manze has been widely praised, with superb sound from the Onyx label's engineers revealing the composer as a master orchestrator in bracing, rather unsentimental, but not unaffecting readings. The Symphony No. 5 in D major and Symphony No. 6 in E minor aren't the most frequently programmed of the composer's symphonies, but the rather mystically pastoral Fifth and the grim Sixth, which at times might be taken for Shostakovich, make a fabulous pair, and this recording may serve as an excellent sample of the set. The Symphony No. 5 was written during World War II and its successor after the war's end, in 1948, but both may be considered wartime works. Most striking is the unrelieved somberness of the Sixth's finale, which listeners at the time suggested might have been intended to represent the aftermath of a nuclear apocalypse. Sample the Scherzo, with its scary marchlike rhythms, densely filled out with counterpoint, and the references to wartime become clear. No less compelling is the delicacy of the Symphony No. 5, demonstrating the skills of, among many others, the RLPO's harpist. This regional British orchestra has been brought to new heights by Manze, and this album may even make converts for Vaughan Williams among those who consider him nothing more than a jolly pastoralist.

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