So it is with unexpected pleasure that I listen to this lovely and gentle symphony that, as Tom points out, is a bittersweet memoir of the First World War. That war was horrific for the British as so many of their best and brightest lost their lives in the trenches. Among the officer corps the casualty rate was approaching 90%. For a good sense of what it was like, read Robert Graves' autobiography Goodbye to All That.
Tom gives us an adequate introduction but falls prey to his usual failing of setting up a straw man that he can vigorously attack for most of the essay instead of getting to the actual music. In this case it is the nickname Vaughan Williams himself gave to the symphony: "Pastoral". Tom just can't stop chewing over how misleading this is:
In this essay Tom's approach seems to have been dictated by the views of Constant Lambert and Daniel Grimley. I kind of wish that occasionally he would just listen to the music and talk about that. Then we might get more than just a brief mention of the trumpet solo in the second movement and the offstage soprano in the last. One thing he does not mention is the influence of English folk song on the melodic idioms (such as that soprano solo) and the English jig on the coda to the third movement.
But I am grateful for the introduction nonetheless. Lots of lovely music here and the orchestration has that particular English freshness without any Teutonic heaviness. Let's have a listen: