Vaughan Williams: A Sea Symphony

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Vaughan Williams
LABELS: Telarc
WORKS: A Sea Symphony
PERFORMER: Christine Goerke (soprano), Brett Polegato (baritone); Atlanta SO & Chorus/Robert Spano
CATALOGUE NO: CD-80588
Robert Spano, the new music director of the Atlanta Symphony, has inherited not only an orchestra with a justified international reputation, but also the much acclaimed chorus founded and nurtured by the great choir-trainer Robert Shaw. Both groups live up to their reputations in Vaughan Williams’s bold, sprawling 1910 Sea Symphony on poems by the American Walt Whitman: the playing is assured and the choral singing firm and well-tuned, if occasionally over-enunciated at the expense of line (and sounding slightly recessed in the balance). Brett Polegato is a clear and polished baritone soloist, and Christine Goerke’s operatic soprano encompasses the wide range of her solo part with ease. However, Spano’s reading, while controlled with obvious authority, sometimes fails to push dynamics to extremes; and it is a good deal faster overall than most. This is a matter not only of brisk tempi in the quicker music, which can be justified as reflecting the urgency of Vaughan Williams’s vision, but also of a lack of repose and breadth in the slower passages, of a sense of Whitman’s ‘vast Rondure, swimming in space’.

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There is strong competition for this new release in the current catalogue, with some of the best versions at bargain price. Andrew Davis’s Teldec recording with BBC forces has superb choral singing and terrific sound. And Vernon Handley’s recently reissued performance from his Liverpool cycle of the symphonies, with a radiant Joan Rodgers and a manly William Shimell, is outstanding for its sustained intensity, excitement and insight. Anthony Burton