Exceptional choral singing is the glory of Hickox's "Sea Sym
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 11/18/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This reissue would seem to be, primarily, a tribute to the late Richard Hickox, one of England's most proficient conductors, who died suddenly of a heart attack last year. He was sixty but had achieved almost everything available on the British choral-orchestral scene, except the most coveted position, conductor of the London Symphony. I'd place Hickox very near the summit of British conductors after Beecham, Boult, Britten, and Barbirolli. What's of special interest in this "Sea Symphony" from 1989 is the extraordinary choral singing, quite the best I've ever heard in this work. The LSO fields a professional chorus, and at the time Hickox was their director.
Immediately one notices the perfect unison and clarity of diction. Vaughan Williams made it hard for us to hear Walt Whitman's poetry over his massive orchestration. Most recordings lapse into blurriness quite soon after the opening cry of "Behold the sea!" Here, miraculously, you can follow almost every line without a written text. Since the composer was a great devotee of Whitman's, this is a huge plus. The overall interpretation of the work is also competitive with Boult, Previn, Spano, and Slatkin, to mention the other versions I'm familiar with. The letdown comes in the soloists, I'm afraid. Margaret Marshall is the better of the two; her bright soprano has a fast beat, but she enunciates very clearly and the tone is vibrant. Baritone Stephen Roberts lacks any real power of expression, tone, or heft, however. He is the least of any soloist I know in the part. His part is extensive, so there's no getting around him. Still, the choral work is so griping and Hickox so energized on the podium that this "Sea Symphony" is well worth seeking out."