There have been quite a few fine Vaughan Williams cycles over the years and Richard Hickox is another welcome addition to the roster of greats that includes, Boult, Previn and the unmissable Handley. His recent recordings of the reconstructed first version of the "London" Symphony and a searing account of the Fourth have already proved to be fine starters and this Pastoral is now the fourth disc in the series. I was very much intrigued with the couplings on disc, a reconstructed Norfolk Rhapsody #2 and its more famous companion piece together with "The Running Set", only previously available on a Chandos Collect issue. Hickox shapes both rhapsodies very beautifully with the latter particularly interesting as it really should not have been neglected by the composer, not on this evidence at least!
In the symphony, I'm not so sure that Hickox plumbs the depths of the work as previous conductors have done. This is a very difficult work to bring off and, to my mind, at least I do have a marginal preference for Vernon Handley's superb account with the RLPO that is coupled with an equally trenchant Fourth. The London Symphony play with deep empathy and understanding of the music but that last ounce of intensity is slightly missing. The recording is quite superb however and is definitely preferable to Bakels on Naxos or the ageing Boult and Previn who remain however, very valid accounts on all planes. I would not be over enthusiastic on this issue if recommending a version for the Pastoral alone but if you are collecting Hickox's cycle then this is obviously essential material.
Copyright © 2002, Gerald Fenech