Martin Yates conducts Vaughan Williams’s Scott of the Antarctic with ‘appropriate majesty’

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COMPOSERS: Vaughan Williams
LABELS: Dutton
ALBUM TITLE: Vaughan Williams
WORKS: Scott of the Antarctic
PERFORMER: Ilona Domnich (soprano), Christopher Nickol (organ); Women of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra Chorus; Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Martin Yates
CATALOGUE NO: CDLX 7340 (hybrid CD-SACD)

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One of my music teachers loftily pronounced that the Sinfonia Antarticawas not a real symphony, but merely film music. He would surely have been silenced by what conductor Martin Yates has uncovered here – essentially a huge forgotten work on, as the notes put it, ‘a quasi-symphonic canvas’, which Vaughan Williams composed in full before even a frame of the film itself was shot – apparently in a fervent three weeks. 

Yates researched this original score and manuscript, about twice as much music as was actually used. It amounts to much, much more than the usual sequence of cues that constitutes most film scores. They’re far more integral, written as pure music, not direct illustration, although a rather sardonic ceremonial march intrudes. Some sections recall his earlier score for Coastal Command, but with added power and atmosphere, evoking the icy world with a vividness that always strikes those who know it. He was inspired not only by the script but also The Worst Journey in the World, by Scott’s colleague Apsley Cherry-Garrard.

Yates conducts with appropriate majesty, his slow tempos very close to Ernest Irving’s in the film. The RSNO and chorus are in powerful form, and Ilona Domnich contributes a strikingly eerie soprano vocalise. The SACD recording is slightly drier than on Rumon Gamba’s earlier, much less complete selection (Chandos) but otherwise this puts it in the shade, and is certainly the one to have – an immensely important addition to the Vaughan Williams oeuvre. 

Michael Scott Rohan

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Listen to an excerpt from this recording here.