Martyn Brabbins continues his unmissable Vaughan Williams Symphony Cycle (5-star reviews on Classical Source so far, see below) with Numbers 3 (A Pastoral Symphony) & 4, from 1922 and 1935 respectively, both premiered by Adrian Boult, pre-knighthood. Brabbins finds the dark and eloquent evocation of the Pastoral (sometimes referred to as a “requiem for World War One” – the fields are those of France, which the composer trod during that conflict) and its tear-jerking depth of feeling. And if the Fourth – angry, terse and (slow movement) desolate – is not quite the most unleashed of performances (compared with the composer’s own 1937 recording) there is something very satisfying about Brabbins’s wholeness of approach. The BBCSO is in top form, and the sound and presentation are exemplary. As a bonus is Saraband ‘Helen’, never finished by VW, and only now realised, by Brabbins, it’s a rather-lovely setting of Marlowe for tenor, chorus and orchestra that was set aside in 1914 and which may be heard as anticipating the sublime Serenade to Music by twenty-plus years. CDA68280.
Stephen Hough’s disc of Brahms’s Opuses 116-119, twenty varied Pieces, his final miniatures for the piano, is a masterclass on how to reveal this music to its greatest and most-moving effect, especially the inward, soul-baring, numbers, Brahms at his most intimate and autobiographical; many special moments in works that belie their relative brevity; and, when required, Hough does athletic heroism with bravura, too. Gratifyingly, he also matches, and wonderfully well, Clifford Curzon’s (Decca) definitiveness in 119/3 (the C-major Intermezzo) with a perfectly judged time-taken tempo and a drily witty and affectionate approach. Then it’s encore time! CDA68116.
Steven Osborne is outstanding in Prokofiev’s three War Sonatas (Piano Sonatas 6, 7 & 8, Opuses 82, 83 & 84, from respectively 1940, 1942 and 1944). Scorching pianism (try the incendiary Finale of No.7, before which the central Andante caloroso movement is turned to perfection) but always musical and from within the sentiments expressed on the page, laden as they are with many emotions, and requiring, and receiving, varied responses, from ethereal inwardness to crushing power, piano as orchestra, add to which Osborne’s in-depth identification with each work. Sonata 8 is a particular revelation; not since I heard John Lill include it in a London recital many years ago has this (to my mind) elusive creation yielded so much. CDA68298.