Le Hallé: Symphonies No. 7 and 9 by Vaughan Williams — successful end of cycle


This year marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Ralph Vaughan Williams. Unlike some composers whose reputations take a nosedive after their death, Vaughan Williams benefited from our new openness to individualism in mid-twentieth-century music.

During the 1950s he enjoyed a warm relationship with The Hallé in Manchester and it is fitting that the orchestra moved forward with an anniversary cycle of his symphonies on disc. This final double album combines Symphonies Nos 7, Antarctic Sinfoniaand 9. A box set of the complete symphonies on five discs is released at the same time.

To hear all nine symphonies in order is to appreciate just how vast VW’s musical horizons were. Although much of his music was predominantly English, he studied with Ravel in Paris, and later symphonies are far-sighted in their inspiration.

Symphony No. 7 is taken from the soundtrack he wrote for the epic adventure film Scott of Antarctica. It has sometimes been criticized for not being a real symphony, but the cinematic scope is wide and the atmosphere of frozen landscapes particularly chilling. Mark Elder and The Hallé are subtle and spacious, and the acting is magnificent.

Elder recently admitted to Gramophone magazine that he found Symphony No. 9 “the most difficult to tackle”. Like Shostakovich’s last symphony, it suggests that the end of a composer’s life brings more questions than answers. Not rushed, never coarse, this performance lives up to the high standards of the cycle as a whole. The set also includes The rising lark and the Norfolk Rhapsody No 1.

★★★★☆

Vaughan Williams: Symphonies No. 7 and 9‘ is published by Hallé

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