Friday, January 30, 2015

Sir Adrian Boult – Ralph Vaughan Williams – Symphony No. 6

   Among many notable British composers Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) was one of the greatest. He set his individual style in main current of original English school in 20th century music. He was student in Royal College of Music and Trinity College in Cambridge where he befriend with Gustav Holst, Bertrand Russell, George Edward Moore and Leopold Stokovsky. He was also a partly successor of neoromantic continental school. He studied with Max Bruch in Berlin and with Maurice Ravel, who was his teacher during half year in Paris. But as French impressionist once said, Vaughan Williams was the only student who didn’t write his music. In early compositions his style was related to some elements of folk music which he was collecting. He considered folk music predominant position writing in 1934: “the art of music above all the other arts is the expression of the soul of a nation”.
   He debuted late, when publishing first song at his thirty. And his career was developing being phenomenally prolific in late period in his seventies and eighties. One of his most famous compositions is Romance for Violin and Orchestra “The Lark Ascending” from 1914. This work closes early period of his creative work. It was written for Marie Hall, to whom composer dedicated the work. The first version of the Romance was not performed because of outbreak of the war, then in 1920 it was revised and one year later premiered with Marie Hall as a soloist. This postromantic composition is programmatic music; it was inspired by the poem The Lark Ascending by George Meredith (1828-1895). Short fragments of first and second stanzas and closing verses of the poem were inscribed by Vaughn Williams in his score as a kind of poetic program for his music.

Ralph Vaughan Williams – Symphony No. 6 (1967)

   Dramatic observations from the 1st World War had strong impact on Vaughan Williams’ style which was evolving from mystical to pessimistic moods. After 2nd World War he was experimenting with new means of expression and temper of his late works was progressively lyrical. After Symphony No. 5 which was dedicated to Jean Sibelius, public was not expecting 70 years old composer can write next symphony. But in forthcoming years he finished four more symphonies. Probably most popular is the Symphony No. 6 in E Minor composed in years 1944 to 1947. This work was founded on some ideas developed in last months of II World War. Premiered in under Sir Adrian Boult, this work was very popular and during two years after premiere it was performed by over 100 orchestras all over the world. As composer was still not satisfied with this work, in 1950 he revised the score. Among many recordings of Symphony No. 6 one is especially inviting. In 1967 it was published on one album with The Lark Ascending featuring violinist Hugh Bean who was the leader of Philharmonia Orchestra.
   Conductor of Vaughan Williams’ 6th Symphony premiere, Sir Adrian Boult (1889-1983) was one of most authoritative conductors of 20th century. His professional reliability and respect to listeners was legendary in the artistic community. As a chief conductor in City of Birmingham Orchestra, BBC Symphony and London Philharmonic Orchestra, he was famous for his dependable style of working. No wonder he was the one of conductors premieres highest numbers of famous symphonic works of the time. He was also conductor of performances published on first long playing records and many of them were premiere recordings in history of phonographic industry. He premiered Symphony No. 6 in E Minor by Ralph Vaughan Williams April 21st, 1948 conducting BBC Symphony Orchestra and recorded this work three times, first in 1949 with London Symphony Orchestra, second time with London Philharmonic Orchestra published by Decca in 1971 with short speech by Ralph Vaughn Williams. Third recording with New Philharmonia Orchestra for His Masters Voice was published in 1967 in UK by HMV and in US by EMI Angel label.
   Composed in four movements Symphony No. 6 is clear form even though its parts are played attaca (without breaks). It is based on tonal and sound binary contrary; also facture, articulation and rhythm are organized in contrasts. In first movement Allegro conflict between E minor and F minor is playing role of exposition of disturbance and anxiety, and its contrast is episode in syncopated rhythm which is like recollection of previous naïve beliefs. In closing part of Allegro comes cheerful theme like the recollection of lost serenity but it is covered with anxious orchestral tutti. Some similarities with Holst’s Planets are element of semantics clear to listeners in first decades after the war. The 2nd movement Moderato is unquiet and full of worst expectancies, which are growing from three note motif and developing in great crescendo to carminative turmoil in Scherzo (Allegro vivace). This part is unrest and agitated. In trio dominated by brass and winds with tenor saxophone composer placed some references to jazz and this corresponds to 1st movement. Finale part called here Epilogue (Moderato) is full of concerns and anticipations with strong pessimistic conclusion and suspended question in last E minor chord. Perfectly catching the idea of Symphony No. 6 recording is worth of four stars.

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