Vaughan Williams: A Sea Symphony

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Vaughan Williams
LABELS: Virgin Virgo
WORKS: A Sea Symphony
PERFORMER: Margaret Marshall (soprano), Stephen Roberts (baritone)London Symphony Chorus, Philharmonia/Richard Hickox
CATALOGUE NO: VC 7 59687 2 DDD
In what is a surprisingly competitive field of eight currently available recordings, Hickox’s interpretation makes a fine impression. His control of the huge paragraphs which build the finale to its visionary climax, for instance, is exemplary. This highly unorthodox movement can ramble in even the most sympathetic hands, losing its sense of compelling spiritual narrative, and indeed its symphonic thrust, while the performance concentrates on individual moments. But Hickox controls all aspects of the movement splendidly, drawing truly beautiful playing from the Philharmonia and passionate singing from the London Symphony Chorus. The two shorter central movements are also finely paced and characterised.

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Ultimately, however, the recording cannot be recommended above Haitink’s magnificent version with the London Philharmonic. The first movement often lacks breadth under Hickox’s rather hasty direction — although his approach to the recapitulation is excellently achieved — and the choir’s words are rarely favoured by the recorded sound.

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The solo singing, too, is far from ideal, with Stephen Roberts a sensitive rather than robust baritone soloist, at his best in the more thoughtful passages, and Margaret Marshall sounding uncharacteristically thin in tone and emotionally uninvolved. Anthony Payne