I am rather fond of Hugh the Drover, it's got a couple of good moments
and although a gentle rural ramble (so is Bartered Bride, for that
matter) is certainly worth an occasional outing I would say.
Of course there is also RVW's dark side in this genre: Riders to the
Sea which in the context of Hugh is a bit like the difference between
the opening of the 4th Symphony and the opening of the 5th!
Someone mentioned Rozhdestevnsky 5 - he did a lot of RVW while at the
BBC Symphony Orchestra and proved outstanding in all of it. Somewhere
there is a beautiful No 3.
If the original poster likes the idiom of Sym 5 there are some
wonderful things to explore: the string quartets, On Wenlock Edge (Ian
Partridge is your man here, I think), Five Mystical Songs (one of the
most beautiful things he wrote, in my view), the Mass for unaccompanied
choir, Five Tudor Portraits, Lark Ascending....we could all go on I am
On conductors, I am not qualified to say although because of my
personal connection with him I am very fond of Boult's recordings
simply as a memory of him. I agree that Barbirolli gets the swagger of
8 better than Boult but in 3 and 5 I think Sir Adrian takes some
beating. The way he lets the first movement of the Pastoral unfold,
Molto moderato, is pure magic. I can see him now: the gentle sweep of
that huge baton, eyes riveted on various people, something the public
never saw. He conducted as much with his eyes as that enormous stick.
Finally, at important crescendos - from the hip, no mistaking for
anyone what he wanted.
And do you notice that in that first movement there is a phrase
identical to The New Ghost? (one of the Shove settings). I was
actually present for one of the rehearsals of No 3 at Kingsway Hall:
the first movement is, I think, a straighthrough take. One of the
engineers, Christopher Parker, said: "I don't think we are going to get
it any better than that, Sir Adrian."
Another good exponent of Vaughan Williams was Norman del Mar.
On the 4th symphony, of the few recordings I have I enjoy the composers
own (pretty brutal), Sir Adrian and also Leonard Bernstein who I think
"gets it in one". One of my great loves is the cinderella Symphony 9.
I know what the criticisms of it are: that it's just a rehash of all
that went before, an old man looking back.
Old men are entitled to look back, I do it all the time, but I think it
a wonderful summation of his art and a deeply moving work exactly for
I came to the music of RVW in a very strange way. As an impecunious
student I found a secondhand book about him. It was written by Simona
Pakenham who had fallen in love with his music and wrote about the
effect of it and she inspired me to explore it as well.
RVW's biographer, and often the writer of extensive sleeve notes on his
recordings, is Michael Kennedy. In Simona's book she tells the story
of how he heard RVW music while serving in the Navy during World War II
and fell in love with it as well and wrote to the composer, beginning a
relationship that exists to this day through recordings.
Symphony No 9