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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

LEBRECHT LISTENS | Ralph Vaughan Williams: Symphonies 2 and 8 (Onyx)

By Norman Lebrecht on May 20, 2016

Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 2 'A London Symphony' & Symphony No. 8 in D Minor; Andrew Manze, The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.
Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 2 ‘A London Symphony’ & Symphony No. 8 in D Minor; Andrew Manze, The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.

Ralph Vaughan Williams: Symphonies 2 and 8 (Onyx)

★★★★ (out of five)

Unless you live in England — and, in most of the country, even if you do — you will have few opportunities to hear live performances of the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams, the dominant national composer between Elgar and Britten. A passing violinist may offer The Lark Ascending and a string orchestra might play VW’s setting of the Tudor tune ‘Greensleeves’, but the meat of this great composer, his symphonic work, is seldom served and then only with an apology.

There has only ever been one live cycle of the symphonies – by the late Richard Hickox — and the recorded versions — Boult, Previn, Handley, Hickox, Slatkin, Paul Daniel Z — are not always distinguished by the best of British orchestral playing. So the heart soars — yes, lifts right out of its chamber and into summer skies — at the glorious first sound of two symphonies that herald a full new cycle from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Andrew Manze.

 The dawn-like opening of the 1914 London Symphony testifies that Liverpool is an orchestra playing at peak confidence and conviction, all sinews strained in the good cause. The symphony is no more a portrait of London than Haydn’s was, rather an evocation of a time and a place, in that order. Nor is it helpful to consider VW an English composer when his principal influences were Ravel, Sibelius and Renaissance polyphony. He was English by heritage, language and tradition, immersed in Anglican melody, but he was cosmopolitan to the core, atheist, egalitarian and profoundly humane.

He was a composer touched by great ideas and the London Symphony was his first near-masterpiece. I have not enjoyed a performance as much as this since John Barbirolli’s, and the playing here is in every measure richer and more vivid than those post-War recordings, certainly the liveliest available. The eighth symphony, written towards the end of VW’s long life, is his shortest and, in some ways, most experimental, playing as it does with tuned gongs, tubular bells and other exotica. It’s sunny, melodic and intellectually undemanding, intended for enjoyment, going nowhere in particular. And it has got some of the best brass playing you will hear all year.

Joseph Haydn: Violin Concertos with the Munich Chamber Orchestra is available at Amazon.com and iTunes.

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LEBRECHT LISTENS | Furtwängler’s Ticket To Ride

By Norman Lebrecht on July 30, 2021

The fine musicians of Reutlingen do their level best to get us through Wilhelm Furtwängler's 1st symphony.
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SCRUTINY | Toronto Summer Music Festival’s In-Person Opening Concert Is A Cause For Celebration

By Joseph So on July 27, 2021

Jonathan Crow and Philip Chiu brilliantly kick off Toronto Summer Music's live music concert series this week after the long COVID drought.
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LEBRECHT LISTENS | A Pleasant Surprise From Nico Muhly And Philip Glass

By Norman Lebrecht on July 16, 2021

Finnish virtuoso Pekka Kuusisto turned for his premiere to Nico Muhly, a New York composer who used to assist Philip Glass, and has augmented this album with works by his minimalist master.
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