BOULT/LPO Vaughan Williams Symphonies & More (1952-1958) - PABX038

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BOULT/LPO Vaughan Williams Symphonies & More (1952-1958) - PABX038

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VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Symphonies 1 - 9
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Old King Cole ‒ Ballet

English Folk Song Suite
Norfolk Rhapsody No. 1
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Fantasia on Greensleeves
Job ‒ A Masque for Dancing
The Wasps ‒ Aristophanic Suite
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Partita for Double String Orchestra
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
Studio recordings, 1952-1958

Isobel Baillie, soprano
Margaret Ritchie, soprano
John Cameron, baritone
John Gielgud, speaker
London Philharmonic Choir
London Philharmonic Orchestra

conducted by Sir Adrian Boult

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BOULT Vaughan Williams Symphonies Volume 1: A Sea Symphony (1953/4) - PASC658

A Sea Symphony of Ralph Vaughan Williams was the composer’s first large-scale composition to receive a public performance and subsequent publication. (Two unpublished predecessors, also for vocal soloists, chorus, and orchestra, that have emerged from manuscripts only in recent years areThe Garden of Proserpine from 1897–99 and A Cambridge Mass from 1901, the latter submitted for the D.Mus. degree at Cambridge.) RVW began work on the score, originally envisioned as a cantata titled Ocean, in 1903 or 1904; in her biography of her husband, Ursula Vaughan Williams mentions that he was working on it during a 1904 vacation in Yorkshire. In 1906 he wrote to Gustav Holst that the scoring of the second movement was done, and the whole was completed in 1907, though revisions would be made right up to its premiere. Influences upon it include the cantata Invocation to Music of his revered teacher, C. H. H. Parry; Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius; and Sea Drift of Frederick Delius. (During his studies with Ravel in 1907, RVW hunted down Delius in Paris and played the entire work for him, eliciting the laconic rejoinder, “Vraiment, il n’est pas mesquin”—Truly, it is not shabby.)

The premiere was given at the Leeds Music Festival on 12 October 1910, RVW’s 38th birthday, with the composer on the podium. The soloists were soprano Cicely Gleeson-White and baritone James Campbell McInness; the renowned dramatic soprano Agnes Nicholls (wife of Hamilton Harty), whom RVW originally had in mind in writing that solo part, would sing with McInness in subsequent performances elsewhere. Despite the now famous words of encouragement from timpanist C. A. Henderson—“Give us a square four-in-the-bar, and we’ll do the rest”—RVW was diffident as to how the initial performance went, even describing it in a 1941 letter as “a complete flop.” Aside from his own lack of sufficient experience as a conductor, it certainly could not have boosted his confidence when a nervous McInness said to him, “If I stop, you’ll go on, won’t you?” In fact, though, reviews were quite positive. Herbert Thompson of the Yorkshire Post perceptively observed, “The music is difficult, unnecessarily so, one would imagine, for probably the desired effect might have been obtained with less complication and fewer awkward passages, but however this may be, it strikes one as sincere, highly poetic in feeling, and showing the power to deal with a big canvas. The ideas are never puny or finicking, and the music has breadth and grandeur….” The critics for the London Times and Manchester Guardian were even more enthusiastic, without reservations. Thanks to championing by Hugh Percy Allen (1869–1946), who in 1918 both succeeded Parry as a professor of music at Oxford and became director of the Royal College of Music in London, the symphony had further performances at Oxford in 1911 (which RVW found far more satisfactory) and London in 1913. But it was a 19 June 1919 performance, directed by Allen for presentation of an honorary Oxford doctorate to the composer, that is often considered to have established the work in the standard repertoire in England.

The subsequent success of A Sea Symphony was also due in no small measure to the advocacy of Sir Adrian Boult (1889–1983). As an undergraduate at Oxford he came under the tutelage of Allen; he sang as a chorister in a performance of Toward the Unknown Region in 1909, attended the first two performances of A Sea Symphony, and was introduced to RVW in 1912. Boult conducted the symphony himself beginning in 1924, and assiduously promoted it thereafter; at a 1930 London performance, RVW’s first wife Adeline wrote to a friend, “Adrian Boult must be overworking, he is nothing but a black streak in a white waistcoat….” During his 20 years as director of music at the BBC, Boult used his position to promote the music of English composers, above all Elgar and Vaughan Williams. While the two men were not close personal friends, their relationship was more than cordial. To this day, Boult remains the unrivalled champion of RVW’s music on disc, with over 60 recordings of 36 different works that includes two complete cycles of the nine symphonies, with the present 1953 recording coming from the first cycle. Fittingly, on 20 February 1983, two days before his death, Boult asked his wife to play for him his second, stereo recording of A Sea Symphony; it was the last music he was to hear in this life.

notes by James Altena

BOULT Vaughan Williams Symphonies Volume 2: Symphonies 2 & 3 - London & Pastoral (1952) - PASC662

The genesis of Vaughan Williams’s “London” Symphony, as recounted twice by the composer (in his essays “A Musical Autobiography” and “George Butterworth”) is well known. One day in 1910, Butterworth “said in his gruff, abrupt, manner: ‘You know, you ought to write a symphony.’ I answered, if I remember aright, that I had never written a symphony and never intended to.” As RVW admitted, “This was not strictly true”—twice before he had drafted movements of projected symphonies, “all now happily lost. I suppose that Butterworth’s words stung me” and in 1912–13 he worked up sketches originally intended for a symphonic poem into the symphony. It seems, then, as if he initially considered A Sea Symphony to be an extended secular cantata, and the “London” Symphony his first proper symphony. He showed his work to Butterworth as it progressed, “and it was then that I realized that he possessed, in common with very few composers, a wonderful power of criticism of other men’s work and insight into their ideas and motives. I can never feel too grateful to him for all he did for me over this work.” After Butterworth died in combat in World War I, RVW dedicated the score to him. In his old age he declared it to be his favorite among his own symphonies.

Geoffrey Toye conducted the premiere with the Queen’s Hall Orchestra at its home venue on Friday, March 27, 1914. Critical reaction was overwhelmingly laudatory; the critic for the Dorking and Leatherhead Advertiser declared that it was “not only the most masterly, but also the most beautiful work, musically or psychologically considered, from the pen of any musician of his generation that we have heard in recent years”; that for J. P.’s Weekly opined that it was “a symphony that is full of noble and unforgettable music.” There were a few dissenting voices; reviews in the Globe and Truth were tepid, while H. A. Scott for The Westminster Gazette dismissed it outright as “for the most part very dry and labored … dull in the extreme.” Most writers rightly grasped that the symphony was intended to be psychologically evocative of states of mind in beholding aspects of London, rather than graphically pictorial in the manner of a symphonic poem; in RVW’s own words it was a “work written solely in music and meant to appeal solely to the musical imagination of the hearers.” The Lento was singled out for its particular beauty. Several critics agreed that the finale was the weakest link and would be improved by being shortened. In the two bouts of revisions that RVW undertook in 1918–20 and 1933 he pruned that movement considerably, resulting in the version generally familiar today, though both the original 1913 and intermediate 1920 scores have also enjoyed recordings.

The “Pastoral” Symphony was composed in the aftermath of the war in 1919–20. This work often is alleged to have prompted Peter Warlock’s famous gibe that RVW’s music “is all just a little too much like a cow looking over a gate” (in fact Warlock had high praise for this symphony). This gave rise to the derisive nickname of “Cow Pat” school (coined by Elizabeth Lutyens in 1950) for the so-called “English Pastoralist” composers such as RVW, Butterworth, Finzi, Ireland, and Moeran. But the composer himself wrote in 1938 to Ursula Wood that the score “is really war time music … it’s not really Lambkins frisking at all as most people take for granted,” an embodiment of his reminiscences of fields in France where he served in the war as a medical orderly, and an elegy to those who fell there in combat. The famous trumpet tune in the second movement provided an initial idea for the work when a regimental bugler accidentally played an interval of a seventh instead of an octave.

The premiere was given by Adrian Boult on January 16, 1922, with the London Philharmonic and soprano soloist Flora Mann. Most critics seem to have been a bit nonplussed by the score’s sustained, subdued mood throughout its four movements; Ernest Newman penned a sour diatribe against it for The Sunday Times. Only recently have its many virtues gained proper appreciation; the present recording was its premiere on discs.


BOULT Vaughan Williams Symphonies Volume 3: Symphonies 4 & 5 (1953) - PASC665

Composed in 1931–34 and dedicated to Arnold Bax, the Fourth Symphony of Vaughan Williams notoriously represents for many listeners a bewildering departure from his usual compositional style. Although fellow composers waxed enthusiastic – William Walton supposedly said that it was “the greatest symphony since Beethoven” – critical reception was far cooler. Writing in The Manchester Guardian on April 11, 1935, the day after the premiere, Neville Cardus opined: “Vaughan Williams is becoming an enigma. A few years ago he was one of our purest melodists, drawing his simple accents from English folk-tunes. To-day he is everything but a melodist. His new symphony, played superbly to-night by the B.B.C. Orchestra under Dr. Boult, has many admirable orchestral qualities, but a man might as well hang himself as look in the work for a great tune or theme…. I decline to believe that a symphony can be made out of a method, plus gusto.”

The Fourth represents a departure from the essentially poetic and discursive veins of RVW’s first three symphonies: It is far more taut and abstract, more academically rigorous in its formal procedures, as well as far more jagged and bitingly dissonant in its thematic contours and harmonics. As in the Piano Concerto from 1926–31, one hears the composer grappling with the compositional idioms of Bartók and Hindemith. The score’s “meaning” remains controversial. Its blazing fierceness often later would be seen as prophetic of the catastrophes of totalitarianism and war soon about to engulf Europe. In an October 1958 essay in the Musical Times, Boult asserted that RVW “foresaw the whole thing [i.e. war] and surely there is no more magnificent gesture of disgust in all music than the final open fifth when the composer seems to rid himself of the whole hideous idea.” But in a letter from December 1937, RVW denied such associations: “I wrote it not as a definite picture of anything external – e.g. the state of Europe – but simply because it occurred to me like this.” On the other hand, RVW’s biographer Michael Kennedy saw the work as “a kind of self-portrait: the towering rages of which Vaughan Williams was capable, his robust humour, his poetic nature,” and a friend wrote to RVW after the premiere that “I recognized your poisonous temper in the scherzo.” Perhaps the best and last word is the composer’s exasperated rejoinder, “It never seems to occur to people that a man might just want to write a piece of music.”

The Fifth Symphony, composed between 1938 and 1943, is the Fourth’s antipode in spirit and temperament, though structurally both works employ cyclical forms, with the finales bringing back materials from the opening movements. However, rather than reverting back to the style of the first three symphonies, the Fifth instead moved forward to break new ground as one of RVW’s most spiritually profound works. The composer had been laboring since 1906 on an opera based on John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress; doubtful of its completion (he would finally finish it in 1949), he recycled some of its materials into music for a dramatic radio presentation and this symphony. Although not printed in the published version, the manuscript of the Romanza third movement that forms the heart of the work quotes the following lines from Bunyan’s work: “Upon that place there stood a cross, And a little below a sepulchre … Then he said, ‘He hath given me rest by his sorrow and Life by his death.’” Frank Howes, writing in The Times on 25 June 1943, the day after the premiere under RVW’s baton, rightly discerned that the work is “therefore essentially apocalyptic, but in the only way possible to the composer, that of quiet contemplation, not of a sudden or dramatic revelation. It seems to absorb into itself and sum up all that he has ever written, and to give us a restatement of his whole philosophy now proved by life’s experience. It is not too much to say that this belongs to that small body of music that, outside of late Beethoven, can properly be described as transcendental.” Due to wartime difficulties in communications, the score’s frontispiece reads, “Dedicated without permission to Jean Sibelius.” Boult subsequently secured Sibelius’s consent, and after hearing a broadcast performance the Finnish composer wrote: “This Symphony is a marvelous work.... The dedication made me feel proud and grateful.”


BOULT Vaughan Williams Symphonies Volume 4: Symphonies 7 & 8 (1953/56) - PASC668

As is well known, Vaughan Williams created his Sinfonia antartica out of the film score he created for the 1948 film Scott of the Antarctic. Greatly moved by its subject matter, the composer actually wrote some 996 bars of music before receiving the actual film script. Only about half of that music made its way into the film, but RVW was by then already contemplating writing a symphony with the whole. Due to work on other projects, notably completion of his opera The Pilgrim’s Progress after 45 years’ gestation, the symphony was not finished until early 1952. RVW dedicated it to Kelville Ernst Irving (1878–1953), the veteran theater director and music director at Ealing Studios, who had commissioned the film score. The premiere was given by John Barbirolli and the Hallé Orchestra and Choir, with soprano Margaret Ritchie, on 14 January 1953; performances in London, Chicago, and Sydney followed soon thereafter. The initial reviews, all extremely favorable, dovetailed in making much the same points: comparison to Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony as a programmatic yet truly symphonic depiction of nature; a breaking of new stylistic ground by an octogenarian composer at the height of his creative powers, whose creativity continued to evolve; the work’s unconventional structure; the extremely colorful orchestration, with use of organ, vibraphone, and wind machine; and the virtuoso execution by the performers.

By contrast, the Symphony No. 8, composed in 1953–55 and premiered on 2 May 1956 by the same conductor and orchestra and dedicated to the former (“For Glorious John”), although received enthusiastically by its first audiences, provoked widel