Classical home listening: Ralph Vaughan Williams and a Rossini feast

Fiona Maddocks
·2-min read

• When one composer, in this case Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), dedicates a major work to another, our curiosity is piqued: is the gesture one of homage or perhaps pride that the giver at last feels they’ve made something worthy of the recipient? The inscription at the head of Vaughan Williams’s Symphony No 5 in D major (1943), the latest in the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s excellent RVW cycle, conductor Martyn Brabbins (Hyperion), reads: “Dedicated without permission to Jean Sibelius” – the reason never fully explained though theories abound. If you need a reason to opt for this eloquent recording, with so many fine versions around, it’s this: the incidental music for Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress is performed in its original 1906 guise. With contributions from folk voice Emily Portman, mezzo soprano Kitty Whately, baritone Marcus Farnsworth, the BBC Symphony Chorus and a quartet from the BBC Singers, it’s a rewarding novelty and part of the continuing exploration of a composer whose reputation seems unstoppable.

• Two of the world’s starriest Rossini tenors – a limited breed, excelling in high trills and dazzling vocal acrobatics – have joined forces to celebrate the maniacal challenges the Italian opera composer throws singers at every turn. Think Djokovic and Nadal on a top day. Amici e Rivali (Erato) – Friends and Rivals – features Lawrence Brownlee and Michael Spyres, with I Virtuosi Italiani, conductor Corrado Rovaris and guest appearances from Tara Erraught and Xabier Anduaga. Arias, duets and trios from seven operas, including Il barbiere di Siviglia, Otello, La donna del lago and others less well known, give a chance for the bright, light-voiced Brownlee and the lower, riper sounding Spyres (he started out as a baritone) to spar and unite: bel canto at its finest, the fruits of formidable virtuosity, musical high risk and lasting friendship.

• Four singers from Scottish Opera’s emerging artists programme feature in Opera Highlights, usually a key touring fixture of the autumn but this year a specially filmed programme of arias, duets and ensembles for socially distanced times, curated by Derek Clark, Scottish Opera’s Head of Music. Premiering 25 October, 6pm on