Originally published on May 22

Quite why the two Symphonies are not on one disc (total time, eighty-one minutes) is wondered at, but it’s good to have reissues of the wonderful Norfolk Rhapsody, Mark Elder nearly matching Boult’s EMI recording, which means that it’s first-class, and there’s a bouquet for the unnamed viola-player’s shapely and rich-toned contributions. The Lark Ascending is also welcome, a spacious and poetic reading with Lyn Fletcher as soloist (back in November 2005, she was the Hallé’s leader, only recently stepping down) and can be spoken of in the same breath as the classic version by Hugh Bean with Boult. And what superb sound from Simon Eadon for both, Andrew Keener producing.

Sinfonia antartica (Symphony 7, Hallé premiered in 1953, Barbirolli), derived from Vaughan Williams’s score for Scott of the Antarctic, http://www.colinscolumn.com/bbc-symphony-orchestra-at-barbican-centre-martyn-brabbins-conducts-vaughan-williamss-score-for-the-film-scott-of-the-antarctic/, receives an impressive outing (January 29, 2019), powerful and atmospheric, very well recorded by Steve Portnoi regarding dynamics (tremendous fortissimos, not least the huge climax with organ) and perspectives (eerie distant soprano, Sophie Bevan, and ladies of the Hallé Choir), the music’s suggestiveness fully wrought, an inhospitable/forbidding landscape (cued by a chilling wind machine), and moments of repose (the fourth-movement ‘Intermezzo’). Overall, Antartica, thanks to this absorbing performance, proves to be as musically worthy as VW’s eight other Symphonies.

The Ninth Symphony (November 15-17 last year) is also a winner, and puts in its place John Wilson’s recent concert performance, also with the Hallé, http://www.colinscolumn.com/halle-john-wilson-conducts-vaughan-williamss-ninth-symphony-holsts-the-planets-live-bbc-radio-3-broadcast/. It’s down to tempo; where Wilson rushed (as far as I am concerned), Elder is stoical and weighty (thirty-seven minutes overall*; Wilson several fewer) and finds the music’s strangeness (aided by a flugelhorn and a trio of saxophones), pain and passion; where Wilson was glib, Elder is significant, the music alive with emotion and sentiment, captured in immediate sound, Portnoi again. Sir Mark really digs deep into the potential of this Symphony and the result is compelling and illuminating, the Finale a dignified and deeply felt, also otherworldly and impassioned, farewell; again, Elder takes his time, to advantage, the music’s intensity reaching the red level.

I have long-known VW9 to be a masterpiece – first through Boult’s second recording (EMI), since then his first (Everest), and not forgetting an LPO concert performance (late in Sir Adrian’s life), and Slatkin (who restores the manuscript’s cymbal clashes in the ultimate coda, so does Elder, but I believe that now a new publication includes them) and this Hallé version also has a conviction that leaves no doubt. The Ninth fooled some doubting critics back then, April 1958, if not Michael Kennedy, and here it triumphs.

However, we are not done: I now await, with the keenest anticipation (that could be a pun), the rest of Martyn Brabbins’s VW cycle for Hyperion, Symphonies 6-9, all recorded, and due for release soon.

Meanwhile, Hallé CD HLD 7558 (2 CDs) is released on June 3.

Digital singles:

Symphony No.7: https://orcd.co/1jlxkbr

Symphony No.9: https://orcd.co/m9q80qw


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