Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 5 (CD review)

Also Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis; Serenade to Music.  Robert Spano, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Chorus.  Telarc CD-80676.

One can hardly argue against the merits of Ralph Vaughan Williams's Fifth Symphony. It is among the best things he ever wrote, and given that the composer himself is one of the towering figures not only of British music of the twentieth century but music in general, that's saying a lot.  This new recording of the Symphony and its several attendant works does it justice.

Robert Spano and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra have never been in better form. Not that any interpretation could probably do harm to Vaughan Williams's score; it's so serene, so calming, so soothing that a conductor would have to have the disposition of a demented lunatic to mishandle its pastoral effects. Still, take nothing away from Spanos; he is a most sympathetic supporter of this music, which, incidentally was written during the Second World War to provide some spiritual relief for a war-torn world. Also, it followed the composer's angry, tempestuous Fourth Symphony, written in the mid 1930s in protest of the then-coming War, and the contrasts between the two works couldn't be more dramatic.

If you have never heard the Fifth, let me just say that even the Scherzo is so laid back, it melds into the graceful, lulling vapors of the rest of the Symphony. And I have to admit that by the time I reached the third movement Romanza, I had actually fallen asleep. This is not meant as an affront to the Symphony or the performance, just to illustrate the fact that the music is a surefire balm for the cares of the day. I awakened several minutes into the Finale, realized what had happened, and backed up to the beginning of the third movement again.  I enjoyed every minute of the disc, even the nap.

Telarc's sound also does the work justice, the sonics being smooth and fluent throughout, with an excellent sense of depth and stereo spread left to right. As Vaughan Williams specified no bass drum, we have no patented Telarc low-end to palpitate the senses, and it's better that way. There is nothing to distract the listener from the pure pleasure of the music and the music-making.


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For over 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me--point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, as of right now it comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio High Current preamplifier, AVA FET Valve 550hc or Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa