Vaughan Williams Symphony No 5; Orchestral Works

Author: 
Andrew Achenbach
Vaughan Williams Symphony No 5; Orchestral Works – Hickox

VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Symphony No 5, etc – Hickox

  • Symphony No. 5
  • Valiant for truth
  • (The) Pilgrim Pavement
  • (The) Pilgrim's Progress, Psalm 23
  • Hymn Tune Prelude on 'Song 13' (Orlando Gibbons)
  • Prelude and Fugue

Richard Hickox launches his long-awaited VW symphony cycle for Chandos with an exceptionally powerful yet deeply moving account of the Fifth. Complemented by some glowing (and excitingly wide-ranging) engineering, Hickox’s is an urgently communicative reading which, in its comprehensive emotional scope and touching fervour, puts me in mind of two earlier versions with this same orchestra – namely Bryden Thomson’s vibrant (and underrated) 1987 performance and Andre Previn’s highly characterful RCA recording. Under Hickox’s long-breathed, confident direction, the first and third movements in particular emerge with an effortless architectural splendour and rapt authority, the climaxes built and resolved with mastery (and both codas, too, have a tingling concentration about them). The scherzo is as good a place as any to sample the lustrous refinement of the LSO’s response (their golden-toned cello section consistently catches the ear throughout). Come the mighty reprise in the finale, and Hickox rightly refuses to overplay his hand, with results that are infinitely more edifying than on Kees Bakels’s recent Bournemouth rendering (see below). Moreover, Hickox ensures that the symphony’s concluding bars positively glow with gentle ecstasy, and here is a Fifth that can surely hold its own in the most exalted company – to my mind, probably the most perceptive modern display we’ve had since Handley’s distinguished 1986 conception with the RLPO.
Of course, Hickox has already shown himself a consummate interpreter of VW’s ‘morality’, The Pilgrim’s Progress (Chandos, 7/98), material from which made its way into the Fifth Symphony. Two of the five enterprising couplings here provide further links with John Bunyan’s timeless allegory: the 1940 motet for mixed voices with organ, Valiant-for-truth (an eloquent setting of Bunyan’s words for that eponymous character that didn’t find a place in the opera); and John Churchill’s 1953 arrangement for soprano and mixed chorus of Psalm 23 (originally sung by The Voice of a Bird in Act 4 of Progress). The latter receives its finely prepared recorded debut on this occasion, as do both The Pilgrim Pavement (a 1934 processional for soprano, chorus and organ written for New York City’s Cathedral of St John the Divine) and Helen Glatz’s string-orchestra arrangement of the solo-piano Hymn-tune Prelude on ‘Song 13’ by Orlando Gibbons (first performed in 1930 by dedicatee Harriet Cohen). All of which just leaves the Prelude and Fugue, originally written for organ in 1921, but heard here in a sumptuous orchestration made for the 1930 Three Choirs’ Festival in Hereford. Good as it is, I would not prefer Hickox’s new rendering to Handley’s 1979 world premiere recording with the LPO (still available as part of a frustratingly variable two-CD set on CfP). No matter: this stimulating VW compilation undoubtedly deserves a hearty welcome.'

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