Vaughan-Williams' Vision of London

A vivid portrait of London painted by lush, musical brush stokes at the hands of Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra.

Composer: Vaughan-Williams 

Repertoire: A London Symphony, Oboe Concerto
Artists: Hallé Orchestra/Mark Elder
Rating: 4/5

Genre: Orchestral

Label: Hallé CDHLL7529

The Music: Composed in Chelsea and debuted in 1914, A London Symphony was Vaughan Williams’s second, and favourite, symphony. In equal parts gritty and soaring, it paints a realistic portrait of a city defined equally by its slums as by the grandiosity of the Thames and Westminster Abbey. His 1942 Oboe Concerto is a more minor piece but no less valuable. 

The Performance: Another natural and beautifully judged performance from the award-winning Hallé under its musical director, Mark Elder. They throw themselves so fully into the texture and colour of the piece it becomes almost visual – captured are not only the hansom cabs, street-sellers’ cries, Cockney mouth organs and accordions explicitly dictated by the composer, but also the less tangible moods and tempos of the city, flipping as abruptly as the English weather. Later, soloist Stéphane Rancourt copes excellently with the virtuoso challenges of the Oboe Concerto. 

The Verdict: A version of London by the legendary Barbirolli, Elder’s predecessor at the Hallé, has long been a standard, but a good reboot is overdue and this more than stands up to comparison.

Want More? More of the English music the Hallé does so well can be enjoyed on the recent English Spring (Halle, CDHLL 7528).