Gramophone Awards 2001

Record of the Year

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Vaughan Williams: A London Symphony

Vaughan Williams: A London Symphony


Butterworth, G:

The Banks of Green Willow

Vaughan Williams:

Symphony No. 2 'A London Symphony'

original 1913 version


“It was during the summer of 1911 that George Butterworth, whose enchanting 1913 idyll, The Banks of Green Willow, comprises the achingly poignant curtainraiser here, first suggested to Vaughan Williams that he should write a purely orchestral symphony.
VW dug out some sketches h'd made for a symphonic poem about London, while at the same time deriving fruitful inspiration from HG Wells's 1908 novel, Tono-Bungay. Geoffrey Toye gave the successful Queen's Hall premiere in March 1914, and VW subsequently dedicated the score to Butterworth's memory.
Over the next two decades or so, the work underwent three revisions (including much judicious pruning) and was published twice (in 1920 and 1936). In his compelling 1941 recording with the Cincinnati SO, Eugene Goossens employed the 1920 version, which adds about three minutes of music to that definitive 1936 'revised edition'. Now Richard Hickox at long last gives us the chance to hear VW's original, hour-long canvas – and riveting listening it makes too! Whereas the opening movement is as we know it today, the ensuing, expanded Lento acquires an intriguingly mournful, even worldweary demeanour. Unnervingly, the ecstatic full flowering of that glorious E major Largamente idea, first heard at fig F in the final revision, never materialises, and the skies glower menacingly thereafter. Towards the end of the Scherzo comes a haunting episode that Arnold Bax was particularly sad to see cut ('a mysterious passage of strange and fascinating cacophony' was how he described it). The finale, too, contains a wealth of additional material, most strikingly a liturgical theme of wondrous lyrical beauty, and, in the epilogue, a gripping paragraph that looks back to the work's introduction as well as forward to the first movement of A Pastoral Symphony. Sprawling it may be, but this epic conception evinces a prodigal inventiveness, poetry, mystery and vitality that do not pall with repeated hearings. Hickox and the LSO respond with an unquenchable spirit, generous flexibility and tender affection that suit VW's ambitious inspiration to a T, and Chandos's sound is big and bold to match. An essential purchase for anyone remotely interested in British music.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

“Hickox and the London Symphony Orchestra have come up with a recording that you can cheerfully measure against most others in the catalogue, before you consider its unique extra charms!” John Armstrong, bbc.co.uk, 20th November 2002

“Hickox and the LSO strike again in this award-winning recording, which turns back the clock on the various revisions to the symphony and presents the original 1913 version.” David Smith, Presto Classical, June 2014

Presto Disc of the Week

1st December 2008

GGramophone Awards 2001

Record of the Year

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - July 2001

Penguin Guide

Rosette Winner

Building a Library

Also Recommended - November 2016

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Chandos - CHAN9902

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Other Finalists

Bach, J S: St Matthew Passion, BWV244

Bach, J S: St Matthew Passion, BWV244


“Everything Harnoncourt touches leaves one with a sense of a country rediscovered.” Gramophone Magazine

“Harnoncourt waited over 30 years to return to the 'Great Passion', which, but for his live Concertgebouw recording, he last recorded in 1970 when he had completed only a handful of cantatas in Teldec's defining series. Harnoncourt's revisitation presents a unique statement, one that can't fail to make an impression. Recorded in the sumptuous acoustic of the Jesuitenkirche in Vienna, there's a detectable flavour of southern European oratorio, ebulliently theatrical, immediate and free-breathing, and without the austerity of North German rhetoric. What's recognisably perceived as 'spiritual' in the carefully coiffured renderings of Suzuki (BIS) and Herreweghe (Harmonia Mundi) has no place here. Harnoncourt's religiosity isn't imposed but stands rather in a lifetime of musical distillation. This is instantly obvious in the opening chorus, where bridal imagery (in the music's secular, balletic lift) is juxtaposed with the physical imagery of what's at stake (in the broad, enduring bow strokes). While Suzuki's visceral chorale is more spine-tingling, the refinement here of 'Sehet, Wohin?' amid inexorable, paradoxically unquestioning direction, is masterful.
Pacing Part 1 is no easy task, and many a tank has been emptied before reaching what the great Bach scholar Friederich Smend called 'the central message of the work' (encompasssing Nos 46-49). Harnoncourt neither dallies unduly with the chorales nor charges through them; they skilfully counterbalance the remarkably incandescent narrative of Prégardien's Evangelist.
The tenor shows a supreme attention to detail (even if his singing is sometimes effortful), and his dialogue with Matthias Goerne's vital Christus is especially compelling. Harnoncourt gives 'Blute nur' a touch of characteristic melodrama, but none can doubt how Dorothea Röschmann and the orchestra, between them, project its expressive core.
The strikingly cultivated crowd scenes of the well-drilled, medium-sized Arnold Schoenberg Choir make a strong contrast with the relatively brazen chorus in Harnoncourt's 1970 version.
Unlike the specialists of the pioneering years, Harnoncourt hand-picks his soloists from the widest possible pool. Apart from the excellent Röschmann, Christine Schäfer impresses here far more than in her rather harried solo Bach disc (DG). More relaxed and controlled, she sings with acute coloration and stillness in 'Aus Liebe'. With Bernarda Fink's beguiling 'Erbarme dich' and Michael Schade's resplendent 'Geduld', only Oliver Widmer (who sings 'Gebt mir') gives less than unalloyed pleasure.
The pick of the crop is Dietrich Henschel, who sings with great warmth and penetration with a 'Mache dich' to stand alongside (if not to rival) Fischer-Dieskau for Karl Richter. But with even these wonderful contributions, it still takes clarity of vision to graphically propel the drama yet also ponder it reverentially. Again, Harnoncourt leaves his mark with his unerring compassion at most of the critical points.
Finally, mention should be made of Concentus Musicus, grainy and luminous in ensemble, the obbligato wind a far cry from the softer-edged and rounded tonal world of almost all other 'period' groups. In short, this is the most culturally alert reading in years and a truly original and illuminating experience.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

GGramophone Awards 2001

Record of the Year Finalist

Building a Library

First Choice - March 2002

Warner Classics - 2564643472

(CD - 3 discs)

$19.00

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Britten: Choral Works

Britten: Choral Works


Britten:

Five Flower Songs, Op. 47

A.M.D.G.

A Hymn to the Virgin

Choral Dances from Gloriana, Op. 53

Chorale after an Old French Carol

Sacred and Profane, Op. 91


“The programme is delightful and the choir excellent. AMDG presents as formidable a challenge to its singers as any of Britten's compositions for unaccompanied choir. In fact that's sometimes suggested as the reason why, having written it for an expert group in 1939 and realising that its chances of frequent performance were slim, Britten never prepared the work for publication. It's a pity he couldn't have heard Stephen Layton's Polyphony! Even more than the Finzi Singers, their predecessors on record, they've worked it into the system so that they have the sense of it clearly in their mind and can make the word-setting fresh and spontaneous. 'God's Grandeur' (allegro confuoco) has the fire: the Finzis seem almost cautious by comparison. In 'The Soldier' Polyphony catch the swing of the triplets and dotted notes with more panache and make more of the words. They also bring out the tender lyricism in 'Prayer II' and grasp more decisively the conmoto, Vivace and Avanti! markings in 'O Deus, ego amo te'.
In the Five Flower Songs Polyphony have a young tone and their numbers allow them to convey a sense of round-the-table intimacy. In the Choral Dances from 'Gloriana', Polyphony improve on the Finzi Singers' performance with crisper rhythms and a clearer acoustic. Sacredand Profane, like AMDG a work for virtuosos, is given with wonderful confidence and imagination.
A wonderful disc.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

GGramophone Awards 2001

Record of the Year Finalist

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Hyperion - CDA67140

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