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Vaughan Williams: A London Symphony - Hickox

Vaughan Williams: A London Symphony - Hickox

Chandos  CHSA 5001

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Vaughan Williams: A London Symphony (original 1913 version), Butterworth: On the Banks of Green Willow

London Symphony Orchestra
Richard Hickox (conductor)


The Idyll, The Banks of Green Willow, by George Butterworth, was composed in 1913, the same year Vaughan Williams completed his A London Symphony. It is a sensuous work, which incorporates two folk songs Butterworth had collected in 1907.

It was George Butterworth who first suggested to Vaughan Williams that he should write an orchestral symphony and, after Butterworth’s tragic death, Vaughan Williams dedicated A London Symphony to his memory. The work was finished by the end of 1913 and first performed at the queen’s Hall in London on 27 March 1914 conducted by Geoffrey Toye, and, as on this CD, was programmed after The Banks of Green Willow. Following the loss of the full score in Germany in 1914, Vaughan Williams, Butterworth, Toye and E.J. Dent reconstructed it from the orchestral parts, and the first performance of the reconstruction took place on 11 February 1915 under Dan Godfrey. Vaughan Williams revised the symphony three times: in 1918, 1920 and 1933, and the well-known ‘Revised Edition’ was published in the mid-1930s.

Listening to the original conception of A London Symphony is particularly exiting in that there is around twenty minutes of extra music from a time when Vaughan Williams was writing works of freshness and lyricism, including The Lark Ascending (1914).

Many of Vaughan Williams’s friends regretted the cuts, Sir Arnold Bax referred to his sadness at ‘the loss of a mysterious passage of strange and fascinating cacophony with which the first version of the Scherzo closed’. Bernard Hermann felt that the deleted bars in the slow movement removed some of ‘the most original poetic moments in the entire symphony’.

After the first performance of the original version, as heard on this CD, Vaughan Williams’s close friend Gustav Holst wrote to the composer saying ‘You have really done it this time!’ How right he was.

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Review by John Broggio - February 1, 2007

Once again, Chandos and Richard Hickox have given us a highly imaginative disc which marries the familiar in a new guise. I sincerely wish I had discovered this series earlier because the (extra-)musical links that are made really cause one to re-evaluate the music or the wider world at that time.

In this case, the opening work is a very poignant and apt miniature from George Butterworth; "The Banks of Green Willow". Completed in the same year as the original version of the London Symphony, it evokes the pastoral heritage of England in a way that few have managed. Tragically, for the man who encouraged Vaughan Williams to compose a symphony, he was killed in the first world war only three years later. The original version of the London Symphony is at first hearing very similar to what is performed in concerts and recordings these days (a special dispensation was needed from Ursula Vaughan Williams to make this disc). However, as the informative notes from the Chair of The Ralph Vaughan Williams Society (there is also a fascinating biographical study about the story of the changes made) rightly points out, there are extensive additions in both the third and fourth movements. The first is untouched and there are minor but very beautiful additions to the second movement. The extra material gives a new balance to the work which, whilst not so technically adept, conveys moods in a much more powerful manner.

The playing and conducting of Hickox throughout this disc is quite beyond criticism - the tenderness is soothing to counter the anguish expressed in the more bitter elements. From all concerned, as an orchestra to the individual soloists, especially the unidentified violist in the Lento (some cynical string players disparagingly refer to this solo as the tramp on the square!), the sense of line is quite magical, as the evocations of bird song amongst other effects. Here the teaching of Ravel is quite evident but never paramount in both the writing and playing. Hickox's sense of rubato is pure magic when matched with playing of this stature - time after time, the ear and mind is left hanging in mid-air only to be swept away on another glorious train of thought. The magical mysterious wisps of sound in the scherzo flutter through the air only to be rudely interrupted by stomping brass, an effect quite marvellously captured here. The movement with the largest amount of "new" material is the finale and the dedication with which Hickox and the LSO manage to bring after the wrenching first part - both much extended - is astonishing. One wishes that playing and conducting like this would never end... Still, there is always the "play" button!

The recording is also very special and complements the textures of the music marvellously. Every instrument has a natural presence but without any sense of spotlighting to produce a richly detailed blend combined with a satisfyingly wide dynamic range. For those interested, the 24 bit / 96 kHz recording was aided for this SACD by Carl Schuurbiers of Polyhymnia.

Highly recommended & I look forward to more releases in this series.

(Purchased)

Copyright © 2007 John Broggio and HRAudio.net

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Comment by Ben Leggett - June 13, 2022 (1 of 4)

I don't love the Hickox Vaughan Williams cycle - I find this a somewhat uninspired rendition of RVW's #2, and I'm not a fan of the recording either.

The Rochester/Seaman is a better version in multichannel, and the Boult/Previn performances are better generally.

Comment by Graham Williams - June 23, 2022 (2 of 4)

I too like the versions you mention. but the Hickox version is unique which is why so many people recommend it on this site.

Comment by John Broggio - June 26, 2022 (3 of 4)

Hickox's version is unique because it presents the first thoughts of VW, which underwent significant excisions in all except the first movement (which has a solitary bar snipped for the more familiar version); the others had a great deal more excised. The most common (and most recent) edition runs at ~20m less than the version Hickox conducts. The changes are so significant, I almost consider them to be different works. I like having both Hickox and a revised version (and the Seaman is a fine account).

Comment by Marcus DiBenedetto - June 27, 2022 (4 of 4)

Personally, I prefer the Hickox version of this symphony. I am especially fond of the "Lento" movement (track 3 for Hickox and track 2 for Seaman). Because of the above comments, I listened to both versions again this morning. I still greatly prefer the Hickox version. There is a huge difference in timing, Seaman is 9:22 and Hickox is 16:14. Hickox creates tremendous drama throughout the movement. I am much more emotionally connected. As the drama is released, I am very satisfied.