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Vaughan Williams, The Complete Symphonies
John Carol Case, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Adrian Boult
Vaughan Williams, The Complete Symphonies
Genre: Classical
  •  Track Listings (15) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (5) - Disc #2
  •  Track Listings (8) - Disc #3
  •  Track Listings (8) - Disc #4
  •  Track Listings (10) - Disc #5
  •  Track Listings (8) - Disc #6
  •  Track Listings (8) - Disc #7
  •  Track Listings (16) - Disc #8

Adrian Boult's credentials in this repertoire are unassailable, and to have nearly all his stereo Vaughan Williams recordings for EMI so elegantly packaged and enticingly priced will be incentive enough for many a prospect...  more »


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Adrian Boult's credentials in this repertoire are unassailable, and to have nearly all his stereo Vaughan Williams recordings for EMI so elegantly packaged and enticingly priced will be incentive enough for many a prospective purchaser. There's much to treasure here, not least those gently perceptive accounts of the first three symphonies, as well as the Fifth and the Ninth. All the same, the fires burned more brightly on Boult's earlier mono cycle for Decca, and there's some oddly listless orchestral playing to contend with in both the Sinfonia Antarctica and the Eighth, especially. The Fourth and Sixth, too, find the New Philharmonia in less than ideally tidy form. The disc of shorter orchestral items and the gorgeous Serenade to Music offer mostly unbridled pleasure (with Hugh Bean a memorably serene soloist in The Lark Ascending), as does Boult's fourth and final recording of Job, though here, too, tension levels are markedly lower than on either of his mono versions. No matter, for all its ups and downs, the present anthology undoubtedly offers fine value for the money. --Andrew Achenbach

CD Reviews

Consider Supplementing This Core Set
Jeffrey Lipscomb | Sacramento, CA United States | 02/22/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"My first exposure to V W's symphonies happened back in the 1970's courtesy of Boult's earlier recordings (#1-8 on London and Decca LPs, and #9 on an Everest LP). Later I acquired all of Boult's stereo recordings on Angel LPs. Here we have the latter recordings in their best-ever transfers. Despite strong competition from Handley (EMI) and Previn (RCA), I feel that over-all this Boult set (Boult II) remains THE one to own in good stereo sound. However, Boult's earlier set (Boult I - now available on Decca CDs in top-notch transfers) features even better performances of Symphonies 4, 6 and 9. I own them both, along with a few individual symphony readings by other conductors. Here's a brief summary of the performances:

#1. I won't mince words here: This Sea Symphony is absolutely dazzling, the finest I have ever heard. Boult I was also pretty extraordinary, but Boult II's superb stereo sound and slightly stronger vocal line-up make it a clear first choice.

#2. Boult I is a more energetic performance than Boult II. Sonically, however, Boult II offers a far more vivid listening experience. I am also rather fond of Barbirolli's first recording (on Dutton, paired with his magnificent 8th). My favorite "live" 2nd is a superb Malcolm Sargent reading, available only in an expensive 10-disc set from the Chicago Symphony. That set is well worth owning: it also contains what I feel are the finest-ever recordings of three great Third Symphonies (Mahler's, Prokofiev's and Roussel's), in readings by (respectively) Martinon, Kondrashin and Munch.

#3. Boult II is my favorite here, just ahead of Previn (RCA).

#4. Boult II simply lacks the incredible rhythmic snap and commitment of Boult I, which is my favorite account along with the Stokowski (Cala) and the composer himself (Dutton, paired with Barbirolli's fine 5th). In V W's own reading, the influence of the composer's contemporaries (especially Honegger, Janacek and Roussel) sounds more noticeable than in any other recording.

#5. Boult I and II are both excellent. Despite II's better sound, I think I prefer I's greater exuberance (especially in the 2nd mvt.) Likewise, I am very fond of both Barbirolli readings (Dutton and EMI), but retain a slight preference for the mono Dutton (which also has V W's own hell-for-leather rendition of the 4th).

#6. Boult I is far better than the slightly soggy Boult II: the former is my favorite performance of the work, despite the mono sound. At the end is a touching little speech given by the composer, in which he thanks Boult and the orchestra for their incredible pianissimo playing in the Epilogue: Indispensable. In stereo, the inexpensive Bakels (Naxos) is excellent.

#7. It's almost a toss-up here, but Boult II ultimately wins out on the basis of sound. But Boult I is no sonic slouch, and Sir John Gielgud's stately narration is a handsome dividend.

#8. Here I feel that, while Boult II is clearly superior to Boult I, neither comes even close to matching the classic first studio recording by Barbirolli, to whom the work is dedicated. The latter is coupled on Dutton with Barbirolli's fine #2 (both in stereo). Barbirolli's studio effort is FAR better played than his live 8th on BBC Legends.

#9. Boult I, this time in clear stereo sound (licensed from Everest), is in every way superior to Boult II, which is curiously detached. Unfortunately, the excellent "Job: A Masque for Dancing" that was Everest's discmate has not been retained. That's a pity: nobody ever did it better, although the Boult II is very satisfying.

All of the smaller works included on Boult II (the Boult I set has just the 9 symphonies) receive fine performances. Especially noteworthy is the Serenade to Music: it even eclipses the classic first-ever recording by Sir Henry Wood (on Dutton). In the Tallis Variations, there are wonderful versions worth hearing from Silvestri (EMI), Stokowski (Bridge) and Barbirolli (EMI). Silvestri also recorded a superlative Wasps (EMI).

If recorded sound is your uppermost concern, then Boult II will prove the more satisfying. But if you want to hear Boult's V W interpretations at their finest, then owning both sets becomes essential.

Boult's final tributes to Vaughan Williams
John Austin | Kangaroo Ground, Australia | 06/26/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)

""You got the score right into you and through you into the orchestra."So wrote Vaughan Williams to the thirty year old conductor Adrian Boult in 1918 after a performance of A London Symphony. Subsequently Boult conducted and championed Vaughan Williams' works constantly. Many times he recorded and premiered them. This slim-line box, containing all the symphonies and many other items, all recorded in stereo and mostly in the warm Kingsway Hall acoustic between 1967 and 1975, ought therefore to be self-recommending. It must be said that Vaughan Williams as a composer has tended to polarize listeners. Detractors say that he had neither the architectural vision nor the construction skills necessary for a symphonist. They point to the fact that he himself hesitated to name and number many of his works as symphonies, and that one of them is merely a re-cycled film score. They contain, moreover, many awkward and ungainly rhythmic figures that tend to cheapen them. Champions argue that the music is wonderfully evocative of its time, that many beauties are to be found therein, and that at least three of the works deserve to remain in the international repertoire forever. Internet browsers, wondering which Vaughan Williams purchases to make, need to balance several factors before selecting this box. The octogenarian conductor, Sir Adrian Boult, directs with authority and knowledge, but nevertheless does not always elicit the very best performances (as in No 7) available or the very best performances of his own recorded versions (as in No 2 and No 6). Against this must be balanced the benefits of relatively modern recording and reprocessing, together with the benefits of low cost and compactness.Perhaps there are no other internet browsers who, like me, heard Vaughan Williams conduct. At an orchestral concert in London in the early 1950s, devoted to his works, he conducted his own Fourth Symphony. As a young audience member I reckoned that he obviously was not the world's best conductor. A tall, big-framed figure, he kept his eye on his own score and beat time with the baton. Nowadays, I am happy to recommend and own this box of his works, while ensuring however that other versions of them are in my collection."
RVW collection...and more...
jean couture | Quebec city - Canada | 11/25/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)

"THIS nice looking blue box is also a nice sounding set of CDs, introducing some perennial works by Vaughan Williams. My only reproach goes to the rather "clumsy" sleeves (each disc is packed individually though): They all present the same plain design and don't have the ease of use of a jewel case. True, EMI intended to "cut corners" in order to significantly reduce the price of that collection (good idea or not, they didn't fail to their promise inasmuch as the cost is much lower than having to buy separately every individual disc). What you don't have are sophisticated CD inserts with nice color paintings or National Geographic sorts of photos, but what you get is a very good record set offering Boult's classic recordings for a low price. Two thumbs up for a most complete booklet introducing each work and providing further details about the recordings (sessions took place in the late 1960's and early 70's, during Boult's EMI-Angel era).

Some important works do not appear in the collection (or were they simply not recorded by this conductor?). Such is the case with the Mass in G minor, Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus and Toward the Unknown Region. Still, the nine symphonies and various orchestral works are there---in an unabridged edition. The overall quality is good and for this i would grant EMI a 8/10.

In terms of viability and investment, you'll probably never find better renditions of the Sea Symphony and the Pastoral. The "least interesting stuff" from this cycle is, to be honest, a no-more-than-average version of the 8th Symphony, arguably forgettable (better in his Decca years, although the best accounts came from Barbirolli). Other than that, there's a breathtaking 5th, a decent London and a classic reading of the Antartica. Orchestral highlights include Boult's quite magnificent 'Serenade to Music' plus a rarely recorded 'Concerto for two pianos' coupled with the exhilarating Masque for Dancing, 'Job'.