VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Pastoral Symphony. Fantasia on a Theme by Tallis
This is, to my mind, the finest volume yet in Sir Mark Elder’s unfolding Vaughan Williams cycle with the Hallé. Abetted by uncommonly articulate orchestral playing, the performance of the Pastoral Symphony evinces a glowing dedication, remarkable luminosity of texture, songful rapture and emotional clout that mark it out as a front-runner alongside Boult (Decca), Previn (RCA), Handley (CfP) and Haitink (EMI).
In the opening Molto moderato Elder’s enviably lucid conception distils both slumbering organic power and piercing heartache to the manner born, while the E flat trumpet and natural horn’s elegiac solos during the second movement really do bring a lump to the throat. The scherzo will make you sit up, such is the muscular vigour and fiery snap on show; like Handley before him, Elder is memorably appreciative of RVW’s brillante marking for the trumpets and trombones in the recurring trio section, though no partnership has equalled Previn and his light-as-thistledown LSO in the magical Presto coda. The finale is superbly handled: that astounding unison cry at one bar before fig J (7'03") projects with searing intensity, and those giddily eloquent measures from three before fig O (8'03") leading up to the towering climax are truly sostenuto as requested. My sole grumble is that Sarah Fox (who sings her wordless vocalise beautifully) might perhaps have been afforded a less close balance.
The couplings yield comparable rewards. I’m especially taken with Elder’s thrillingly ardent and bracingly characterful way with Five Variants of ‘Dives and Lazarus’; both here and in the Tallis Fantasia (which also enjoys subtly observant, pliable and profoundly moving treatment) the Hallé strings cover themselves in glory. An exhilaratingly crisp yet wonderfully affectionate Wasps Overture rounds off proceedings with aplomb. Two different venues were employed but the sound consistently displays commendable transparency, warmth, depth and antiphonal spread. A marvellous disc.