Vaughan Williams Symphony No 9

A fascinating compendium, essential listening for VW’s Ninth alone

Author: 
Andrew Achenbach

Vaughan Williams Symphony No 9

  • Symphony No. 9
  • New Dance
  • Symphony No. 2, 'Mysterious mountain'
  • Toccata

Promoted by the Contemporary Music Society to mark Stokowski’s Golden Jubilee as a conductor, this typically colourful Carnegie Hall programme makes thoroughly enjoyable listening. Both Paul Creston’s Toccata (written in 1957 for the Cleveland Orchestra’s 40th Anniversary) and Wallingford Riegger’s New Dance enjoy exuberant treatment from Stokowski and his crack ensemble, while the red-blooded yet luminous account of Hovhaness’s Mysterious Mountain (commissioned by Stokowski for his 1955 debut concert with the Houston SO) need fear little in comparison with Reiner’s immaculate Chicago SO version.

However, the real interest in this Cala release lies with Stokowski’s American premiere of Vaughan Williams’s final symphony. After a slightly crumbly first couple of minutes, the sound soon settles down, and comparative listening with Sir Adrian Boult’s pioneering recording from the previous month is fascinating. Not only does Stokowski give the more fervent, dramatic reading (the opening Moderato maestoso is memorably grand and defiant), the playing of his hand-picked band has greater conviction, composure and sheen than Boult’s hard-working LPO. It’s a most moving tribute to the then-recently deceased composer (the concert was originally to have featured Shostakovich’s Symphony No 11) and a ‘must hear’ for all VW and Stoki fans, who may also like to know that that we can shortly expect a BBC Legends reissue of the Old Magician’s inimitable 1964 Proms performance of the Eighth (previously available on BBC Radio Classics, 4/96 – nla).

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