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AT LAST!! A near-definitive RVW 4th, in wonderful sound.
First, the performance. It's wonderful, to my ears the best since RVW's own some 70 years ago, but in rather better sound (!!). It's driven, tense, urgent, magnetic, mesmerizing, angry, powerful, searing, gut wrenching (literally) and disturbing. For the first time since you could first apprehend its power in RVW's and Mitropoulis recordings, this fourth comes across as being as motorific as Prokofiev, as visionary as Nielsen and as angry as Shostakovich, but adding the two qualities RVW's great teacher, Parry enjoined him to display, the temperament of an englishman and a democrat. The result is that the fourth finally takes its rightful place as a great 20th century symphony rather than a "fine" `or an "interesting" one. This is what RVW meant!!
I have owned the Mitropoulis, Previn and Handley recordings and heard the RVW, Boult and Thomson. I found Mitropoulis energetic and compelling, Handley a little light-on, to be honest (certainly compared to his marvellous 3rd and 5th), the Boult and Previn fine but ultimately unconvincing and the Thomson close to the best but a little rough. But this, ---- this is complete!!
The LSO plays brilliantly for Hickox, who gets more out of them in this piece than other fine conductors. Despite my words about energy, the LSO and Hickox also bring a subtlety to this recording which enhances the stature of both symphony and performance. Hear the "chill and eeriness" (to quote the Penguin guide yearbook) in the second movement and you'll get a taste for the range of their achievement here. And everywhere, even in the midst of the anger and passion, are the great tunes VW couldn't help but write, all played sublimely.
No wonder the Penguin guide awards this a Rosette.
As to the sound, I loved it. This 24 bit, PCM, 96 khz recording sounds wonderful. It captures the proper relationship of the instruments to each other and to the themes they're given.
One of my bugbears with all-DSD recordings has been that although dynamic range is wide, what we tend to get given is a differentiation between loud and soft, with even soft passages and soft playing still crystal clear and sometimes even "spotlit". That's fine when the theme or the instrument playing it is meant to be dominant (as opposed to just heard as part of the fabric) but, for me, can distort musical balances, presenting a crystal clear but fairly monochromatic picture.
What I like about this (and Hickox's recording of the "London" )is that instruments are present in context, - and are sometimes dominant and at others deliberately subordinate (not just "soft"). They are truly part of an orchestra and an orchestral sound and the internal emotional balance of the composition in a way which some (i hate to say this, Telarc) DSD recordings aren't. There is more to orchestral sound than dynamic range and there are good reasons why we use the word "sonority" instead of just "sound".
Anyway, I felt that the recording brings out the best of PCM and DSD with the result being a very natural orchestral sonority. At times the strings may be silkier and the brass may not blare as much as in some DSD derived recordings, but when the brass is meant to call out, it does, and when the strings are meant to sing out in visionary fashion in the middle of anger and betrayal, they do too!
I've over-run my usual self-imposed review length and still haven't mentioned the other 2 works, the lovely Mass in G minor and the six songs "In time of War", so I'll be brief. The Mass is sharp and dramatic as well as lovely, with, thankfully, women's voices instead of boys' (a purely personal taste, I know, but I HATE pre-pubescent boys' voices, and consequently, most recordings of English choral music). The songs are intense and lyrical. They are both also, to again quote the Penguin Guide, "given superb Chandos sound".
If I sound breathless at the end of this review, it's because that's exactly how I felt when the Symphony ended. Bravo, RVW, LSO, Hickox and Chandos. More, please, more !!!!!