Vaughan Williams: Scott of the Antarctic Suite; Coastal Command Suite; The People’s Land

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COMPOSERS: Vaughan Williams
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Scott of the Antarctic Suite; Coastal Command Suite; The People’s Land
PERFORMER: Merryn Gamba (soprano); Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus, BBC Philharmonic/Rumon Gamba
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10007
Film music has always had a problematic life away from the silver screen. Classic soundtracks are often saddled to ancient audio technology, while the cue-based form of the original can make even suites of the music sound fragmentary on CD. Vaughan Williams proffered the best solution when he turned his score for Michael Balcon’s Scott of the Antarctic into his Sinfonia antartica. The suite derived from that film here – the fullest yet offered and including a few minutes that never made it into the finished edit – can’t disguise the musical discontinuity between the often short numbers, especially if you know the Symphony well. Nonetheless, it is a testament to RVW’s profound attachment to his subject matter, capturing something of the metaphysical world of Walt Whitman’s ‘vast similitude’ that had inspired the Sea Symphony 35 years before. Rumon Gamba and the BBC Philharmonic capture this, drawing out the music’s drama and suggesting a sense of awe at the natural wonders pictured within – natural wonders that RVW never saw at first hand. One only feels that the wordless vocal contributions could have been given more atmospheric distance.

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The couplings bring us closer to home, with music for two wartime documentaries: a rousing depiction of the Atlantic flying-boat teams and a portrait of the National Trust, both scores sumptuously presented here. Matthew Rye