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I'm pretty new about the music of this great english composer. Until now I've heard two concertos and the Fantasia on a theme by Tallis (which I love) but none of his symphonies. Very soon I'll receive the Slatkin cycle and I'm really looking forward to begin my listening but... in what order would you recommend me to begin to explore the symphonies? When I discovered Mahler's universe the sequence was important to me to get into the music. So, in your opinion, what's the best way to enter into the Ralph Vaughan Williams symphonies? Thanks in advance!
 

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Hi H. I often think that a composer's symphonic output is best approached chronologically if the quality is consistent but with VW there are one or two curveballs - in his case the first symphony is an epic choral work based on a text by Walt Whitman. Indeed, it is one of his most popular but I think some of the shorter instrumental symphonies might be the best place to start - maybe the 4th, 5th and 6th.

VW's symphonies have been served well over the years by different conductors but try and listen to Adrian Boult in stereo (on EMI) if you can - he had a career-long affinity with the symphonies and the grand old man respected Boult very much.

Hope this helps. :)
 

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I'd say No. 2 is fairly representative of his overall style, not too modern, not too bucolic.

No. 3 "Pastoral" is beautiful, somewhat in the Tallis Fantasia vein, but also sometimes considered "cow patty music" by jealous rivals.

No. 4 or 5 (I forget which) is forward looking, fairly modern and dissonant to some ears.

No. 7 is the very exotic symphonic version of the Scott of the Antarctic film score, featuring eerie wordless soprano. I love that sort of thing, myself and it remains my favorite of his symphonies. Some others on these forums have had different reactions

No. 1 is of epic proportions but can come across as borderline corny. (elgar's ghost beat me to it.)

So it depends on what you find the most appealing. They are quite varied.
 

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#4 is the 'dissonant' although I'd describe it as more 'angry'.
#9 is the one which after all these decades, I have still not quite come to grips with
#6 has somewhat of a post-apocalyptic feel to it
#7 is based on material that RVW wrote for the movie Scott of the Antarctic
#3 seems quite bucolic (it is called A Pastoral Symphony) but in reality is a reaction to RVW's experiences in the first world war.

So...
I would say go with #2, #5 and #8 to start with, all very different from each other. And if you like big choral works, try #1
 

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I'm pretty new about the music of this great english composer. Until now I've heard two concertos and the Fantasia on a theme by Tallis (which I love) but none of his symphonies. Very soon I'll receive the Slatkin cycle and I'm really looking forward to begin my listening but... in what order would you recommend me to begin to explore the symphonies? When I discovered Mahler's universe the sequence was important to me to get into the music. So, in your opinion, what's the best way to enter into the Ralph Vaughan Williams symphonies? Thanks in advance!
Well, you picked a good set. Slatkin is probably one of two sets of consistent quality from start to finish that I would recommend.

Out of curiosity, in what order did you listen to the Mahler symphonies? This might help in steering you in the right direction on Vaughan Williams based on your tastes.

If you like choral music, you have nothing to lose in starting with A Sea Symphony. It's an early orchestral work for Vaughan Williams, and he went all out in terms of scope. Huge symphony, beautiful piece of work.

Typically I would recommend in order, but it's not pertinent. I would be just as confident recommending #2 first, or #3
 

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I like Becca's idea; no. 2, then 5, then 8. And I recommend this no. 2: Richard Hickox/London Symphony Orchestra on the Chandos Label.
While I think that Hickox's recording of the 1913 version is fantastic and I play it far more often than the official, 1933 version, I probably wouldn't recommend it as a first choice for someone coming to the RVW symphonies, better to get to know what RVW finally decided on, then listen to his first thoughts.

Note to Heliogabo ... RVW revised the 2nd symphony twice, first in 1920, then in 1933, each time making some cuts and reworking, principally in the 2nd movement, although there are notable changes in both the 3rd & 4th movements. Some years back, Richard Hickox persuaded RVW's widow, Ursula to allow a single performance and recording of the original version. Many people, myself included,, think that he cut out much that was quite special in his changes even though structurally it was an improvement.
 

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While I think that Hickox's recording of the 1913 version is fantastic and I play it far more often than the official, 1933 version, I probably wouldn't recommend it as a first choice for someone coming to the RVW symphonies, better to get to know what RVW finally decided on, then listen to his first thoughts.

Note to Heliogabo ... RVW revised the 2nd symphony twice, first in 1920, then in 1933, each time making some cuts and reworking, principally in the 2nd movement, although there are notable changes in both the 3rd & 4th movements. Some years back, Richard Hickox persuaded RVW's widow, Ursula to allow a single performance and recording of the original version. Many people, myself included,, think that he cut out much that was quite special in his changes even though structurally it was an improvement.


I respectfully disagree with Miss Becca.

I find the Hickox RVW London Symphony a shining exemplar of high Renaissance art. Its perfect in every way. The reading is heroic, aristocratically poised, and gorgeously and sweepingly Romantic.

Its one of the most perfectly-executed and engineered RVW recordings ever made.

Richard Hickox should have a twenty foot bronze statue erected in his honor just for this recording. . . which incidentally won a Grammy (not that that means anything ;D ).
 

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I respectfully disagree with Miss Becca.

I find the Hickox RVW London Symphony a shining exemplar of high Renaissance art. Its perfect in every way. The reading is heroic, aristocratically poised, and gorgeously and sweepingly Romantic.

Its one of the most perfectly-executed and engineered RVW recordings ever made.

Richard Hickox should have a twenty foot bronze statue erected in his honor just for this recording. . . which incidentally won a Grammy (not that that means anything ;D ).
I don't disagree as you have often seen me say. My only point is that it is probably better to get to know the official version before hearing Hickox as you aren't likely to hear the original version anywhere else.

BTW, There was a recording made of the 1920 version by Eugene Goosens and the Cincinnati Symphony that post-dated the 1933 version ... has anyone heard it?
 

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Thank you all, I really apreciate your advices and comments, that are very useful. (This forum is great thanks to people like you. :tiphat: )

I'll explore RVW symphonies with Slatkin and then I'll try my favorites with other maestros of his music, like Boult, Haitink, and Hichkox (whom I don't know).

As I read to you, I think that I'll start with #2, and then maybe #3 and #4... To continue in ordered sequence, I don't know, I'll see my first reactions. To start with #1 it's not my best choice because I'm not that much into Choral works. The 4th sounds really appealing to me.

As I can remember my Mahler exploration was in this order: 1, 4, 9 (the entrance), 2, 6, 7, 5, 8, 3, 10, the last being one of my favorites now. What a wonderful trip it was!
 

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I don't disagree as you have often seen me say. My only point is that it is probably better to get to know the official version before hearing Hickox as you aren't likely to hear the original version anywhere else.

BTW, There was a recording made of the 1920 version by Eugene Goosens and the Cincinnati Symphony that post-dated the 1933 version ... has anyone heard it?
Uncanny that you mention this.

A friend of mine has the 1920 Goosens version. I was listening to it at his house last week. We both like the 1913 version the best of the three.

But to each Her/his own of course.

- Non disputandum -

(Unless you want a 'monumental' reading- then its the Hickox 1913 all the way. Ha. Ha. Ha.)
 

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Thank you all, I really apreciate your advices and comments, that are very useful. (This forum is great thanks to people like you. :tiphat: )

I'll explore RVW symphonies with Slatkin and then I'll try my favorites with other maestros of his music, like Boult, Haitink, and Hichkox (whom I don't know).

As I read to you, I think that I'll start with #2, and then maybe #3 and #4... To continue in ordered sequence, I don't know, I'll see my first reactions. To start with #1 it's not my best choice because I'm not that much into Choral works. The 4th sounds really appealing to me.

As I can remember my Mahler exploration was in this order: 1, 4, 9 (the entrance), 2, 6, 7, 5, 8, 3, 10, the last being one of my favorites now. What a wonderful trip it was!


Another RVW sine qua non.

Ultimate adventure.

Jason and the Argonauts is child's play next to Scott of the Antarctic. ;D

Unbelievably powerful sounding recording.

Hail Handley!
 

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I would start with numbers 5, 6 and 4 (in that order), then 2, 3, 7, 8 and 1. Leave number 9 until last as it's rather more elusive than the others to my ears.

I didn't know all THREE versions of 'A London Symphony' were available to listen to and I've never heard the 1920 version. Something for the weekend, I think...
 

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If you want to start slowly, with only 3 symphonies, I will go 6th, 3rd and 5th.

And even if I feel that the 6th is one of the best symphonies of the century I'm very keen on the 3rd, which is for me the most underrated work of RVW.
 

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Handley's entire cycle with Royal Liverpool is great, and my second favorite complete set after Slatkin. He actually is the owner of my favorite "A London Symphony".



Also, Previn has a solid set, though difficult to find nowadays.

I think the Previn RVW set definately has some lavender Alpine ridges to it- but it really needs to be re-egineered so that it can wax and wane like it needs to.

But I'm babbling.

I go for individual performances of symphonies- never sets; it isn't generous.
 
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