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Happy 100th Birthday, Ralph Vaughan Williams 'London' Symphony!

By James Inverne j.inverne@classicalite.com on Mar 15, 2014 04:36 AM EDT

There have been some magnificent musical works composed on the subject of London, but surely none greater than Ralph Vaughan Williams' Second Symphony, premiered on March 27 1914 and therefore this month's honored birthday boy. One hundred years old it may be, but it still has yet to have its due internationally. Most conductors to have recorded it are Brits (Boult, Hickox, Handley, et al.) and even with the odd and significant exception (take a bow Bernard Haitink, Andre Previn and Tamas Vasary) there is still the unshakeable feeling that it it seen as a parochial English work.

So, if you give the symphony one birthday present, go and listen to a recording. I'd recommend the mainstream but wonderfully poignant Previn, dripping in sad nostalgia for a London that, one feels, never really existed. Or the award-winning Hickox recording on Chandos offers the composer's earlier, lengthier thoughts. But for my money it's the approved final version that takes the prize, with its almost unbearably moving quiet movement (one of Previn's great moments on record).

Will this centenary year see a rash of London symphonies around the world? Will it heck. The Bachtrack concert listing website seems to currently list only one upcoming performance, in Gottingen in June.

For those of us who grew up adoring this great work that's incredible, and not in a good way. Perhaps it needs a new clutch of important conductors to advocate its merits. A David Robertson, a Marin Alsop, an Andris Nelsons, an Antonio Pappano. Anyway, happy birthday London Symphony. I wish you could be happily unwrapping the promise of a dozen performances around the world right now. I really do. Because you deserve it, London Symphony. Oh well. Eat your cake.

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TagsVaughan Williams, London Symphony, Bernard Haitink, Carlos Kalmar, David Robertson, Marin Alsop, Andris Nelsons

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