Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
|Christopher Maltman, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Paul Daniel|
Vaughan Williams: A Sea Symphony (Symphony No. 1)
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Just a Smidgen Below the Best
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 10/14/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This new release competes most obviously with the recording issued last year featuring the Atlanta Symphony under the direction of their new music director, Robert Spano. I found that recording to be a little disappointing, and surprisingly that was at least partly because I found the usually sterling sound from Telarc to be a bit over-bright and hard-edged. One cannot make that complaint about this new Naxos release, but there are a few other quibbles about this otherwise fine recording. The 'Sea Symphony,' Vaughan Williams's first, written just after he'd returned from his few months studying with Ravel, was my first RVW symphony back in the 1950s. I knew it even before the most popular one, the 'London' Symphony, No. 2. My introduction was Sir Adrian Boult's classic mono recording which many consider to be, even yet, the finest ever made. But that recording's sound, alas, shows its age. [I dug out my old LP just to give it another listen after a number of years. It is also out on a mid-priced CD on EMI and I believe it is still widely available. My old impression remains; it is a very fine performance. I will admit that perhaps I like it because it was my first recording, but apparently others feel the same about it.] Since the Boult there have also been fine recordings by Previn, Slatkin and Hickox that I've heard. I like all three, and particularly like the choral sound of the London Symphony Chorus in the Hickox recording.Naxos has put out its own RVW symphony set with all but the 1st and 4th conducted by Kees Bakels with the orchestra on this CD, the Bournemouth Symphony, that recording-est of non-London British ensembles. I have not, truthfully, been taken with those recordings, although they are solid enough and I did really like the one that included both the 5th and 9th symphonies. Perhaps we can hope that the 4th symphony, not yet recorded by Naxos as far as I know, will be directed by the present conductor, Paul Daniel, and this group. This performance uses two superior vocal soloists. Christopher Maltman has a masculine baritone and impeccable diction. His dramatic declamation of Whitman's soaring text is exemplary. The lesser role assigned to the soprano, Joan Rodgers, is well-taken; she has the pure spinto sound needed. I am a bit less impressed with the singing of the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus; perhaps it's because they don't sound particularly British--as, for instance, the choruses on the Boult, Hickox and Previn recordings do--and I miss that. Paul Daniel is a rising star amongst British conductors. I thought his recording of the Elgar/Payne Third Symphony was a real triumph; I liked it even more than the Andrew Davis/BBC Symphony world première recording. And I loved his 'Elijah' with Bryn Terfel and Renée Fleming as well as his recording of Walton's First Symphony and Partita. He directs a somewhat muted performance here. He does not squeeze the last drop of drama out of Whitman's exceedingly dramatic verse here, although he really comes into his own in the lyrical second movement, 'On the Beach At Night, Alone.' He directs the third movement, the Scherzo 'The Waves,' with headlong abandon, but his chorus sounds like they are singing a bit above their heads; admittedly, this is exceedingly difficult contrapuntal music that would tax most choruses. However, Boult's and Hickox's choruses do it almost without breaking a sweat.The final and longest movement (at 27 minutes), 'The Explorers,' is a triumph. It is a loosely constructed and dramatically complicated piece and Daniel leads his forces expertly. Throughout the symphony RVW uses sea shanty tunes and rhythms, and especially so in the culmination of this last movement; Daniel conveys them without their becoming trite, somewhat difficult considering that the subtext of this movement is the journey of the soul towards a spiritual resting-place. A worthwhile recording which is, as indicated in the above title line, just a little below the best recordings of this monumental 65-minute piece.Scott Morrison"
"At Sea" in "A Sea Symphony"
Dace Gisclard | Houston, TX | 03/04/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"On the enthusiastic recommendation of AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, I bought this CD (of a work I love deeply) and IMMEDIATELY discarded it. The strings are thin, and the choral sound has a rough edge. Perhaps the chorus master was attempting descriptive "word painting" by spraying the sibiliant of the word "sea" in the first choral entry all over the walls ("Behold the sssssssssssea itself"). It merely succeeds in sounding sssssssssilly! Most off-putting, however, is the unlistenable quavering of the baritone soloist, and the stilted diction of the soprano, Joan Rodgers. British diction does not have to sound as preciously "hot potato" as it does here. In Handley's recording of this work, Rodgers is exemplary in every respect. What happened to her here?
Spano, Previn, and Handley (his baritone is rough but at least not wobbly) are all preferable to this CD, in that order. Personally, I've never been terribly concerned about hearing every word of the choral part in this work projected with absolute clarity. This is Technicolor sound-bathing, and I can always read the booklet. However, for those who insist on this, Spano, with a chorus trained in the tradition of Robert Shaw, delivers clarity of choral diction in spades. He also has better soloists and silkier strings to boot.
For a budget-priced recording of this work alone, I'd recommend Boult, although one may still be able to find single copies of Previn and Handley. The diction of Boult's soloists is a little stilted, but OK. His soprano sounds a bit pinched at the top beside those of Spano, Previn and Handley. Thomson's baritone is almost as unlistenable as Daniels'--not recommended, either.
Unless one absolutely MUST pay as little as possible for a recording of this work, it's worth spending more to get better. This is a very disappointing issue, because I'm usually very fond of both this conductor and this soprano. To be sure, Daniels' himself is wonderful, but his performing forces let him down.
To those who enjoyed this CD, "Chacun a son gout." Potentially, Daniels has a fine recording of the Sea Symphony in him--this just isn't it."
At last, the words come across clear as a bell
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 11/24/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Having owned six or so versions of Vaughan williams' massive "A Sea Symphony," I wasn't eager for a new one, even at the ridiculously low price seen here at Amazon Marketplae. But this propulsive, alert performance under Paul Daniel features very close miking of the two soloists, Joan Rodgers and Christopher Maltman. As a result, every syllable of Whitman's poety can be heard. Others might find this a little too artificial (the Gramophone reviewer did), but I am the sort of concert-goer who sits in the first four rows whenever there are vocal soloists. I want to hear every nuance of expression from the text.
If you share this priority, look no further. Daniel's conducting stands very near the top of the heap, the Naxos enginners have captured everything in clear, dynamic sound, and the soloists are first-rate (even though Rodgers is a bit mature compared with her 1988 assumption of the role, and Maltman's voice wobbles under pressure). For detailed commentary, I find myself agreeing with every point made by Scott Morrison in his review above."