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David Denton
David's Review Corner, May 2008

To mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Ralph Vaughan Williams, Naxos are reissuing their cycle of symphonies now packaged in a neat cardboard slipcase.

The project started life as a series of studio recordings following concert performances by the Bournemouth Symphony conducted by their Principal Guest Conductor, Kees Bakels. Born in Holland, he did not have that upbringing in the world of British orchestral music and coming fresh to each symphony he added many insights that have escaped British conductors. His ‘London’  Symphony does ‘smell’ of that great city, yet it never gets bogged down in the sounds of the city pictured therein and which Boult and his followers loved to point out. Maybe Bakels’ greatest achievement came in the Sinfonia Antarctica where the sheer hopelessness and desolation are chilling in their inevitability. I also much liked his Third where there is equally a picture of bleakness. Sadly for the series Bakels was invited to form and become Music Director of the new Malaysian Symphony Orchestra, and the cycle was picked up by Paul Daniel who had already contributed the outstanding Walton cycle to the Naxos catalogue. Thankfully he proved to be equally unencumbered by British ‘tradition’, and by avoiding the cataclysmic opening we hear in the composer’s own recording of the Fourth, he gives a much more balanced view of the score. Here it is the finale that is disturbing, the vicious ending coming as a horrific surprise. His view of the Sea Symphony is lashed with salt spray as the many moods of the sea are faithfully captured. Along the way some ‘fillers’ were added, including the Overture to The Wasps, First Norfolk Rhapsody and Flos Campi. The well-rehearsed playing by the Bournemouth orchestra is never less than excellent and is often inspired, the sound quality more than satisfying. At the price of four regular Naxos discs this is a genuine bargain not to be missed.

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