Vaughan Williams: Symphonies Nos. 4 & 6

The Sixth Symphony caused a sensation at its premiere in 1948 and was performed 100 times in the following two years. It was composed during a period in which Vaughan Williams was writing film scores, the experience of which had the effect of sparking his imagination in the extravagant use of the orchestra. The work is claimed by many to have an external ‘war’ programme, a fact dismissed by the composer. Either way the result is undoubtedly one of Vaughan Williams’ finest works; a tightly woven musical statement, with stunning melodies and orchestration which is at turns dramatic and expressive.

The Fourth Symphony was first performed in 1925 and, echoed the relative dissonance of recent works such as the oratorio Sancta Civitas, the Piano Concerto and the masque for Dancing Job. Structurally it gives a nod to Beethoven’s 5th Symphony and it includes material based on traditional forms as well as elements of self-portraiture, with music displaying the composer’s temper, humour and ribaldry.

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Vaughan Williams Symphonies Nos 4 and 6 Mark Elder (Hallé) This ongoing cycle of Vaughan Williams’s symphonies from Mark Elder and The Hallé is shaping up to be a highly impressive achievement. Facing up to two of the middle symphonies, both statements of forceful character, the team from Manchester holds nothing back. The Symphony No. 4, identified at the 1935 premiere as an angry depiction of the state of Europe (though Vaughan Williams denied it), rages splendidly. The Symphony No. 6 is colourful, assertive, wide-ranging. Above all, Elder secures first-rate, detailed playing from The Hallé and the recordings are blazingly alive. ★★★★☆ Richard Fairman, Financial Times

The fifth instalment in Mark Elder’s Vaughan Williams symphony cycle launches with a strikingly lithe, poised and painstakingly prepared reading of the Sixth, culminating in a superbly controlled, rapid questing Epilogue which (for once) unfolds as a true pianissimo throughout. …the orchestral playing cannot be faulted in terms of discipline and composure and the recording team have struck a commendably judicious balance within Bridgewater Hall” Andrew Achebach, Gramophone

The sense of the long line is superb, the detailed phrasing telling, especially in the quieter, more intimate passages. (There are plenty of those even in the Fourth Symphony) What moved me most was the sense of craggy dignity conveyed by both symphonies. This above all is what prevents them from coming across as onslaughts of pure pessimism. The playing - as usual with Elder’s Hallé- is outstanding, technically and expressively.PERFORMANCE 5 STARS. RECORDING 5 STARS. BBC Music Magazine

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