replay; Vaughan Williams: Symphonies Nos 4 & 6 London Philharmonic Orchestra / Sir Adrian Boult (Recorded 1953) (Belart 461 117-2)

Sir Adrian Boult's interpretative axis might be summed up in just two words: balance and clarity. And if ever those subtlest of qualities were of crucial importance, it's here, in Vaughan Williams's most disturbing symphonies.

Boult habitually avoids a level of dramatic overkill which, in the Fourth Symphony especially, can so easily turn genuine terror into a sort of Dad's Army melodrama. Here, however, the savage opening Allegro builds magnificently and the work's closing peroration punches rather than flails.

The Sixth Symphony is, if anything, finer still: even the first movement's "big tune" is beautifully integrated into the structure, while the second movement's pensive Moderato suggests drumming fingers near the Red Button (try the Shostakovich-style string writing at 6'34": London and Leningrad have never sounded closer). Perhaps the Scherzo is a mite underpowered, at least initially - although it tenses virtually by the second.

And then there's Boult's masterly control of the Epilogue's desolate no-man's land - "a wonderful feat of endurance", to quote the composer's poignant speech at the end of the disc; "and it wasn't merely 'not playing loud': it was a positive, sensitive pianissimo, full of meaning and tension." The mono transfers are excellent.

Taneyev: Suite de Concert

David Oistrakh (violin)

Philharmonia Orchestra / Nicolai Malko

Miaskovsky: Cello Concerto

Mstislav Rostropovich (cello)

Philharmonia Orchestra / Sir Malcolm Sargent

(Recorded: 1956)

(EMI Matrix 7243 5 65419 2 4)

Composer, theorist and pedagogue, Sergei Taneyev never accepted payment from private pupils, and when, in 1905, 25 Russian musicians signed a declaration protesting against the political oppression of the Tsar's government, he was one of the signatories. Taneyev was equally sensitive "on the stave", so to speak; in fact, he was a far more inventive composer than many people give him credit for.

His technically demanding 45-minute Suite de Concert was dedicated to Leopold Auer and runs the stylistic gamut from post-classical elegance (a winsome "Gavotte") through Tchaikovskian melancholy (the opening "Praludium") and fantasy (a charming "Fairy Tale") to Neapolitan high spirits (the closing "Tarantella"). It's a piquantly orchestrated, indelibly memorable score, one that - in this particular recording - is granted a superlative performance.

David Oistrakh's rounded tone and cultivated musicianship here receive sensitive support from the Philharmonia Orchestra under Nicolai Malko; while, in Nicolai Miaskovsky's thoughtful but musically varied Cello Concerto, Sir Malcolm Sargent traces the score's every subtle nuance and Mstislav Rostropovich extracts a maximum of expressive potential from the solo line.

Both recordings sound exceptionally good for their age, albeit from beneath a quiet tape hiss. Essential fare for all musical explorers.

ROBERT COWAN

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