Vaughan Williams: Symphony Nos. 6 & 8 - Hickox
Chandos CHSA 5016
Classical - Orchestral
Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 6, Symphony No. 8, Nocturne
Roderick Williams (baritone)
London Symphony Orchestra
Richard Hickox (conductor)
Discussion has raged ever since the first performance of Vaughan Williams’s Symphony No. 6 in 1948 about whether the symphony has a ‘programme’. One critic called it a war symphony and likened the pianissimo Epilogue to the vision of a world laid waste by atomic warfare. Another thought the violent and jazzy Scherzo was inspired by a tragic incident during the bombing of London. Vaughan Williams emphatically denied all this but one cannot escape the impression that some kind of extra-musical drama or struggle is being described, which is undoubtedly why the work made such a deep impression on its listeners.
Symphony No. 8 is certainly the only one of his symphonies, which can be said to be entirely abstract. After it appeared in 1956, when the composer was eighty-three, its comparative lightness and use of exotic instruments led some commentators to underestimate its novelty of form and to miss the freshness of its invention.
In 1908 Vaughan Williams composed three Nocturnes – settings of his favourite poet, Walt Whitman – which were never completed. But the manuscript of an earlier Nocturne, a setting of ‘Whispers of Heavenly Death’ dated 11 January 1908, fully orchestrated, only came to light in 2000. It was among the music belonging to Frederic Austin who had been a well-known baritone. It must be assumed that Vaughan Williams gave him the score to criticise or in the hope he might perform it. The piece provides invaluable insight into Vaughan Williams’s compositional development.