Déjà Review: this review was first published in February 1999 and the recording is still available. Ian Lace passed away in 2021.

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)
Symphony No. 5
The Pilgrim Pavement
Hymn-tune Prelude on Song 13
Psalm 23
Prelude and Fugue in C minor
Ian Watson (organ)
Richard Hickox Singers
London Symphony Orchestra/Richard Hickox
Chandos CHAN9666 [71]

Much of the tranquil, mystical material of RVW’s 5th Symphony is taken from his opera based on Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress which also influenced most of the other sublime liturgical works on this CD. Hickox delivers a glorious, ecstatic performance of the Symphony, its ebb and flow beautifully directed – the music often seeming to float ethereally. The scherzo has great finesse and the lovely Romanza movement is deeply affecting. Although not quite eclipsing the classic Barbirolli and the much admired Handley performances (both EMI), this is a front-ranking reading. The radiant, gently rippling setting for soprano and mixed chorus of  The Twenty Third Psalm shares the same serene quality of the Symphony. It is an arrangement from The Pilgrim’s Progress made by John Churchill in 1953. It is this work, I guess, and the other items in this enterprising and intelligent programme that will inevitably decide a purchase rather than the Symphony which must figure in most people’s collections.

The first work in the programme is an a capella version of Valiant-for-truth, a motet dating from 1940 composed for mixed voices with organ. Bunyan’s memorable words for Mr Valiant-for-truth did not fit into the opera The Pilgrim’s Progress and so it stands alone as a considerable and moving composition in its own right; the final “trumpets sounding” here ringing out splendidly. The Pilgrim’s Pavement is a processional-style hymn for soprano, chorus and organ to words by Margaret Ridgeley Partridge with voices mostly in unison, the organ part echoes the Symphony and The Pilgrim’s Progress.

The serene, luminous beauty of Vaughan Williams arrangement for strings of the Hymn-tune Prelude on Song 13 by Orlando Gibbons is contrasted with the magnificence of the Prelude and Fugue in C minor for organ and orchestra. It is a powerful work with links to Job and the Fourth Symphony as well as references to the Fifth Symphony.

Ian Lace

Original review:


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