Review: Vaughan Williams – Andrew Manze Conducts The Phil

Photo: Chris Christodoulou
THE RLPO and Andrew Manze went straight into the UK Specialist Classical chart at No.11 last month, with the first in a projected complete Vaughan Williams symphony cycle with Onyx Records. The first disc contains symphonies 2 and 8, and Manze was signing copies after the concert at Philharmonic Hall on Thursday evening. On this occasion, in an all Vaughan Williams programme, they were performing symphonies 3 and 4 in advance of recording sessions for the next album. Whilst the city was holding widespread 75th anniversary commemorations of the May Blitz this week, the Phil’s programme serendipitously felt perfectly aligned to these events. Beginning with the quintessentially English pastoralness of the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, the first half moved on to the anger and brutality of the 4th symphony, widely considered to be Vaughan Williams’ response to the mounting tensions that presaged World War II. The second part of the concert returned to gentler mood beginning with mezzo soprano Jennifer Johnston in the short but beautifully formed Linden Lea. This was followed by the 3rd, Pastoral Symphony, a work of serene reconciliation, opening and closing in splendid stillness around its central folk-dance scherzo. As the originally engaged tenor was indisposed, a late decision was taken to use the suggested alternative to the wordless cantilena, beautifully articulated by principal clarinet Benjamin Mellefont. Vaughan Williams is repertoire that the Liverpool Phil have long associations with and it runs in their blood. It’s well over 20 years since their acclaimed recorded cycle with Vernon Handley and in Andrew Manze they have once again found an intelligent interpreter who really understands this music. The playing was immaculately articulated and imbued with tremendous warmth, and it is clear that orchestra and conductor really enjoy working together. As the current concert season nears its end we await the announcement of the 2016/17 programme, and this week’s audience will surely be hoping for more of the same from Andrew Manze. Meanwhile, he returns this coming Thursday and Friday to conduct a programme of Rossini, Mozart and Mendelssohn. Review by Nigel Smith