VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Symphony No 2, ‘A London Symphony’
Martyn Brabbins masterminds a superbly involving account of Vaughan Williams’s A London Symphony in its first published edition from 1920. Clocking in at around 52 minutes, it’s a canvas of thrilling sweep, evocative power and vaulting ambition, and incorporates nearly 50 bars of highly imaginative music that a number of the composer’s colleagues (most notably Arnold Bax and Bernard Herrmann) were sorry to see jettisoned from the symphony’s final ‘revised edition’ of 1936. Not only does Brabbins encourage the members of the BBC SO to give of their considerable best, the resulting performance strikes me as an altogether more trenchant and discerning affair than Martin Yates’s characteristically breezy outing with the RSNO (Dutton, 10/15).
I particularly admire the way Brabbins ensures that the wonderfully hushed and expectant introduction (which here seems to unfold with all the time in the world) acts as a structurally satisfying counterbalance to the same material’s reappearance from 11'43" in the extended epilogue – a canny touch symptomatic of the long-term cogency of his conception. He also gauges exceptionally well the slumbering unease which stalks the third movement’s profound coda, its portents of tragedy carrying over all the more devastatingly into the anguished cry that launches the finale and the weary tread of the ensuing Maestoso alla marcia. Above all, Brabbins exhibits a very real love for this remarkable score, whose wealth of memorable invention, generosity of spirit and kaleidoscopic range of mood combine to make the composer’s initial printed thoughts such a feast for both head and heart.
The fill-ups are a joy, too. Elizabeth Watts makes a radiant showing in Orpheus With His Lute, and she is joined by Mary Bevan and Kitty Whately for a disarmingly idiomatic rendering of Sound Sleep, a ravishing setting of Christina Rossetti first heard as an a cappella offering in April 1903 at the East Lincolnshire Music Festival in Spilsby (the present orchestration followed soon afterwards). Conceived as a test-piece for the 1957 National Brass Band Championships, the tasteful set of Variations likewise enjoys exemplary advocacy, this time from the crisply disciplined Royal College of Music Brass Band.
An irresistible anthology, in sum, painstakingly supervised by the experienced Keener/Eadon production team and essential listening for all RVW devotees.