COMPOSERS: Vaughan Williams
ALBUM TITLE: Hallé – Vaughan Williams – A Sea Symphony
WORKS: A Sea Symphony
PERFORMER: Katherine Broderick (soprano), Roderick Williams (baritone); Schola Cantorum of Oxford; Ad Solem; Hallé Youth Choir, Chorus and Orchestra/Mark Elder
CATALOGUE NO: CD HLL 7542
Mark Elder’s Vaughan Williams cycle with The Hallé is turning out to be the finest since the two by Adrian Boult – and the opening bars of this live recording of A Sea Symphony show why. The sweeping grandeur of the moment is wonderfully caught: yet there’s no trace of bombast, so that even with the massed choral and orchestral forces, the big paragraphs are shaped with a sense of their lyricism that neither drags nor glibly undercuts the music’s epic scale. Elder’s mastery of pacing (surely the product of a lifetime of opera-conducting) pays rare dividends in the finale, ‘The Explorers’: the flow of the opening section is superbly judged, so that the movement’s loose-limbed design seems to unfold from then on like a process of nature.
From start to finish we’re presented with a feast of virtually flawless choral singing and orchestral playing. The interplay of the various semi-chorus passages comes across to near-perfection in the Bridgewater Hall acoustic, and the stellar quality of the Hallé’s principal players shines in ‘The Explorers’, with leader Lyn Fletcher offering one beautifully poised violin solo after another. A few moments don’t quite happen: somehow the poetry of the orchestral close of ‘On the Beach at Night Alone’ doesn’t come across as hauntingly as it should. And there has to be a fairly major reservation regarding Katherine Broderick’s soprano singing – uncomfortable above mid-volume, with a quick and wide vibrato that doesn’t convince alongside Roderick Williams’s fine and unforced baritone. Malcolm Hayes