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(BBC Symphony Orchestra/Ralph Vaughan Williams)
HOLST: The Planets; Marching Song (London Symphony Orchestra/Gustav Holst)

Naxos Historical 8.111048



William Walton, having been to the rehearsals of Vaughan Williams's 4th, reported "You are about to hear the greatest symphony since Beethoven." The composer himself described the opening grinding dissonances as "cribbed from the finale of Beethoven's ninth." To a musician's questioning of a certain note, he replied, "It looks wrong and it sounds wrong, but it's right - - I don't know whether I like it, but it's what I meant." (Steve Schwartz)

The composer's own recording, which I have grown up with since 78s days, remains a bench-mark performance; it has fire, and a no-nonsense briskness and brusqueness which are just right, and sounds fine on the reliable Mark Obert-Thorn's refurbishment. In my book, his only rival is Mitropoulos (n.l.a)* - I have not studied the current stereo sets.

But to my taste and mind, the coupling with The Planets (+ a pot-boiler march as a fill-up) is a disaster and serves only to display the poverty of imagination of V-W's good friend; only his Egdon Heath deserves to be considered a possible companion piece, and I could not bring myself to publish the Naxos cover image, which carries Gustav Holst's picture, not V-W's ! The Planets depends upon its orchestration, so you'd do better to invest in one of the recent glossy state-of-the-art recordings if you want it.



For in depth surveys, look at http://www.classical.net/music/comp.lst/works/v-w/v-w4.html
and see too Amazon Jun 2002:


* [The Mitropoulos interpretation of VW's 4th Symphony was the first I ever heard and, for me, still sets the standard by which others are judged (apart from VW's own 1938 recording, of course). It is wonderful to have this terrific performance available on CD, side-by-side with Stokowski's equally classic performance of the 6th Symphony.]


(Dissenting opinions welcomed by Musical Pointers?)

© Peter Grahame Woolf