Ralph Vaughan Williams, VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Symphony No 2, ‘London’ / The Wasps Overture

James Jolly

By James Jolly

on 04.22.11 in Reviews
The great British symphonist conjures up an indelible portrait of his beloved London.

I'm really torn between this wonderful and deeply affectionate portrait of London and the glorious Fifth Symphony of 1938-43 as a representative work from the greatest British symphonist of the 20th century. If you've ever visited London and walked over one of the bridges, it's not hard to conjure up the image Williams offers at the opening. There's the lap of the water below as dawn lights up the city, and soon you are in the hustle and bustle of activity. This is a symphony, as V.W. put it, "written by a Londoner," and it exudes a colossal affection for the city in all its moods. The lovely slow movement, "Bloomsbury Square on a November Afternoon," is a wonderful, misty evocation, as is the Scherzo, portraying the city at night. The finale is dark: perhaps V.W. had a sense of foreboding that in the next few years everything would change forever.