VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Symphonies Nos 3 & 4
Andrew Manze takes a markedly more objective view of RVW’s A Pastoral Symphony than most of his rival interpreters on disc. Prospective purchasers can rest assured that the RLPO responds with breathtaking composure throughout, countless strands of texture and flecks of detail are laid bare with almost forensic clarity, and in the second movement and finale respectively there are immaculate contributions from Rhys Owens (playing a natural trumpet) and (as sanctioned in the score) tenor Andrew Staples. If only the finished article stirred me more! Who knows, perhaps the clinical sound is partly to blame; but the slumbering tragedy, transcendental awe and piercing anguish that suffuse this illimitably moving and sublimely compassionate creation seldom register here, and there’s too little overall that either quickens the pulse or tugs at the heartstrings. In other words, I found this an altogether less involving experience than Elder’s wondrously organic and glowingly rapt Hallé version (2/15), to say nothing of those distinguished forebears from Haitink, Handley, Previn and Boult (his 1953 Decca recording).
The comparatively close-set balance is better suited to the rugged Fourth Symphony, though in the slow movement I’d have preferred greater cantabile warmth from the strings (always a Boult trademark). Certainly, Manze has the RLPO on its toes in an athletic, commendably spick-and-span reading which is as faithful to the letter of the score as it is rhythmically spry. What’s lacking is that fiery temperament you hear in such abundance on those astoundingly elemental, unforgettably edge-of-seat displays under the composer himself and Barbirolli (both with the BBC SO, from 1937 and 1950 respectively). Nor does Manze’s conception evince the symphonic sinew or cumulative tension one encounters with, say, Mitropoulos, Bernstein, Berglund, Handley, Haitink, Oundjian or Ryan Wigglesworth (in a thrilling concert relay with the LPO from May 2013). Still, a perfectly decent Fourth, but for me the oddly detached performance of its bedfellow remains a stumbling block; and, unless you’re irrevocably committed to acquiring Manze’s cycle, I can only advise caution.