A treat for any VW or Sibelius lover
MartinP | Nijmegen, The Netherlands | 10/10/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"These are wonderful pieces of music. If you like Vaughan Williams or Sibelius, or better, both, opening this set is like opening a box of chocolates. The Fourth, especially, has an otherworldly, luminous character that is totally captivating, and sounds almost like VW's symphony 5a. The Fifth has an Andante that starts out much like the slow movement of Shostakovich's 11th, but instead of dragging on as that piece does, turns into sheer magic, the transfigured final bars drifting up into the stratosphere. There are stereophonically placed sets of timpani a la Nielsen 4, that come into their own in the finale and provide an extremely thrilling conclusion to the piece. The Second also has imaginative use of timpani, as well as an opening of spell-binding magic, with mysterious piano arabesques in the background. But it also features a devastating funeral march and an intense, multifaceted finale. Each of the ten symphonies included holds its own share of surprises and delights; as a whole, this oeuvre to me is quite a discovery.
The recordings, unfortunately, are not all as clean and perfect as one would like. The disc containing symphonies 1 and 5 gave trouble on my CD-player, where the music was accompanied by a persistent and extremely distracting ticking noise, growing louder in fortissimo's and sounding for all the world as if the conductor was marking a syncopated beat by furiously slapping his desk with his baton. However, in my DVD player it sounds fine, so I suppose this is an error that newer machines have no trouble dealing with. The recording of the Fourth sounds downright messy at times; unlike the others, it was taken from a public concert, and there is a fair lot of extraneous noise, incredibly enough including footsteps and distant whistling! The recording by the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra on the Alba label is definitely preferable. The other symphonies fare rather better and offer wide-ranging and sufficiently (though not ideally) detailed and natural sound, especially in quieter passages. On the other hand - don't let the tam-tam strokes in the Eight catch you unawares!
The clever packaging is somewhat of an intelligence test and may have you believe that one disc is missing - but don't be fooled...