The second release in Andrew Manze’s complete traversal of Vaughan Williams’ symphonies, is as impressive as its predecessor. Despite the name “Pastoral”, the Third was a wartime symphony. Parts were written while Vaughan Williams was stationed at Écoivres during World War I, and its elegaic, melancholy mood is directly related to that experience. Manze’s recording embraces a post-war reading of the work in one very specific way: he employs a tenor for the wordless vocalise in the final movement, rather than a soprano. The ghostly sound of a man’s voice produces an almost tangible link to the unknown soldier that came to represent the casualties of the Great War. And how deeply contemplative is Manze’s pacing of the magical orchestral passage following the tenor’s appearance?
The Fourth, composed between 1931 and 1934, seems with its harsh harmonic clashes to represent the threat of war once more, but the composer indicated that his point was purely musical. This was his first symphony to follow a traditional, recognisably symphonic form, namely that of Beethoven’s Fifth. Manze treats it that way. His urgency and clarity point out the symphony’s structural coherence, helped by a fresh and open sound.
Manze reveals fascinating details and textural colours as never before in both. Andrew Staples vocalises beautifully in No 3, as haunting as Heather Harper on Previn’s 1971 LSO recording, still a benchmark in terms of atmosphere. Highly recommendable.