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Vaughan Williams: Symphonies 5 and 8

Ralph Vaughan Williams

The Hallé’s series of award-winning recordings of British music continues with the 4 February release of a second volume of works by Ralph Vaughan Williams

The CD combines two highly contrasting works, the 5th and 8th Symphonies, to provide a disc that is both moving and uplifting. 

You can listen to an excerpt from Symphony No.5's rhythmic second movement below. The fleeting Scherzo, built from several short themes, is irregular in rhythm and contrasting in mood with an underlying air of uneasiness.

Symphony No.5 is a generally tranquil work with music influenced by Ravel, with whom Vaughan Williams had studied, and is scored for very traditional forces. Although the serenity makes a predominant impact, there are harmonic tensions and dissonances indicating that all is not quite as it might seem.

After a brief creative hiatus during 1937, Vaughan Williams began working on the symphony in 1938 and it was completed in 1943, the composers 70th year.

Symphony No.8 was composed between 1953 and 1955 when Vaughan Williams was in his eighties. 

It is dedicated to Sir John Barbirolli and was premièred by the Hallé on 2 May 1956. It is the shortest and least serious of the symphonies and whilst not being without moments of somber mood, is generally light hearted in tone.  It is has a more exotic instrumental colour, with an enhanced percussion section.

The audio excerpts below are from the opening Fantasia (Variazioni senza tema) movement. 

These works have long been part of Hallé’s concert repertoire under Sir Mark Elder in performances which have drawn great critical praise:

'I cannot think of another conductor around today better equipped to conduct this score than Sir Mark and he didn’t disappoint.'
Michael Cookson, Symphony No.5 Review, Seen and Heard International, Nov 2011

'Elder made a splendid job of it, capturing its quizzical nature to a nicety and balancing the orchestral sound with a skill that drew out the subtlest of Vaughan Williams’s instrumental colourings.'
Richard Fairman, Financial Times, review of Symphony No.8 Royal Albert Hall Proms, July 2008

'I’d rather listen to [the Hallé] play English music than any other orchestra in the world.'
The Times

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