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Ralph Vaughan Williams

Boult conducts Vaughan Williams Symphony No 4

1965. Royal Albert Hall, London
This recording of Sir Adrian Boult conducting Vaughan Williams' Fourth Symphony was made at a concert at the Royal Albert Hall in 1965
Composer Ralph Vaughan Williams
Conductor Sir Adrian Boult
Ensemble Royal Opera House Orchestra
Genre Symphonic concert

This recording is a rarity by way of the ensemble he is conducting in a work he had premiered in 1935 and subsequently performed many times – but only on this one occasion here with a group that was not one bit familiar with it: the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, playing the Symphony No.4 by Vaughan Williams. This was the final item in a BBC Promenade Concert on 21 July, 1965. Thirty years earlier at its premiere the symphony’s predominantly dissonant and often fiercely explosive character was something of a bolt out of the blue to a 1930s Britain that had never imagined a Ralph Vaughan Williams of such turbulent vehemence. Ever since then people have conjectured a reflection of war, specifically the First World War, in the music, although the composer was highly irritated whenever he heard that implication spoken or written. He used to say it is “pure” music, with no external associations – and the furthest he was prepared to go was his often quoted remark “I don’t know whether I like it, but it’s what I meant.”

Sir Adrian, however, who was a personal friend of the composer, said in an interview with Robert Layton: “I always feel that the Fourth, coupled with Dona Nobis Pacem, got the war off his chest. Some other people think that it was a personal thing, that he realised at this time that his first wife was not going to get better – she was very badly crippled with arthritis. Anyhow, he was getting something evil off his mind”.  What is indisputable, at least to this writer, is the mastery with which Sir Adrian in this performance propelled and controlled the symphony’s tortuous rhythms and tumultuous textures, and the spell of mystery that his conducting cast over the, in strongest contrast, hushed reflective parts of the work. I personally experienced this magical kind of atmosphere that he could conjure up on some of the occasions when I played for him in my orchestral days of more than half a century ago – in contemplative or poetic passages the looseness of beat yet sureness of shape in his conducting truly could create an almost other-worldly aura. Conversely he was a crack expert at obtaining pistol-shot attack when he wanted: watch out for your life at the very end of the symphony – even though a momentary lapse in ensemble from the cymbal in the penultimate chord earned the player one of his “death-rays”. We have decided not to erase it as in fact it engendered an added extra tension in the silence before the massive slam at the end.

Jon Tolansky © 2023

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872 – 1958)

Symphony No 4 in F minor

  1. Allegro
  2. Andante moderato
  3. Scherzo: Allegro molto
  4. Finale con epilogo fugato: Allegro molto

This recording was made on July 21, 1965.

It is from the Tolansky/Tschaikov Collection at Music Preserved.

Sound Restoration and Remastering is by Paul Baily.

It has been released on CD by SOMM Recordings as part of their album devoted to Boult conducting works by Berg, Stravinsky and Vaughan Williams (ARIADNE 5024-2).  Full details from

We are very grateful to SOMM Recordings and to Jon Tolansky for allowing us to use their material.



  • The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
  • Sir Adrian Boult

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