Andrew Manze / Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra

Vaughan Williams: A Pastoral Symphony; Symphony No. 4

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Although best known as a conductor of historically oriented performances, Andrew Manze has turned his attention to mainstream repertory with often profitable results. This release is part of a cycle devoted to the symphonies of Ralph Vaughan Williams, and it succeeds in works that are not among the audience favorites of the composer's nine. The subtitle "A Pastoral Symphony" for the Symphony No. 3 is both apropos and problematical, and as such the work is one of the most personal in the oeuvre of a rather impersonal composer. The germs of the music date to Vaughan Williams' service as an ambulance driver in World War I, and the mood throughout is one of pastoral scenes disturbed by danger. Manze, leading a charged-up Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, has the wisdom to realize that less is more here, and when he deepens the effect, he does so through unusual textures rather than grand gestures. For the solo trumpet part in the second movement, evocative of the composer hearing buglers at the front in the evening, he uses a natural trumpet, and he employs a tenor in the fourth movement opening (sample this for the haunting effect). A soprano is generally used here despite Vaughan Williams' own indication that the part may be sung by a soprano or tenor (or played on a clarinet). The Symphony No. 4, from the 1930s, is a more outwardly turbulent work whose march rhythms may bring Shostakovich to mind. One of the Russian conductors on the British scene might bring more zing to this, but there's also much to be said for Manze's approach in this unsettling work. Recommended RVW, very much in the British school.

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