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Vaughan Williams / Butterworth

Vaughan Williams / Butterworth BBC Studios, 1950

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Here are two significant additions to the discography of one of the best-known and –loved British conductors of the last century. The innate sympathy of Glorious John (as he was known) for English music is well attested, with many fine recordings of Vaughan Williams available. He performed all nine of the composer s symphonies yet made commercial recordings of only Nos. 2, 5, 7 and 8. Here, for the first time, is his massively powerful interpretation of the Fourth, composed in 1943, whose Mahlerian violence and Sibelian rigour would seem ideally suited to the conductor s strengths.

The gruff rebuttal by the composer of any implied extra-musical narrative to the symphony – I don t know if I like it, but it s what I meant – has only sparked further speculation as to its relationship with its war-torn times. Such turmoil turned to creative advantage is also strikingly apparent from the opening bars of Arthur Butterworth s Symphony, completed in 1956 but 15 years in the making. Butterworth was a trumpet-player in the Halle at the time, and one can hear how the symphony s cast would have appealed to Barbirolli, and appreciate his efforts on behalf of a promising young composer.

This release documents the symphony s first performance, given at the Cheltenham Festival, which at the time was a vitally important stage for new British music, analogous to the ISCM festivals across contemporary Europe. Barbirolli and the orchestra reprised the work at the Proms, and Butterworth went on to compose another five symphonies. The First reached a new audience with the release of a modern, digital recording four years ago. Here is a chance that no lover of English music will wish to pass up, to hear the work under its first and most fervent interpreter.