Job**; Songs of Travel*;
*Neal Davies (bass-baritone), **David Adams (violin), **Darius Battiwalla (organ); Hallé Orchestra/Mark Elder
Hallé CDHLL7556 70:16 mins
First one high-quality Job comes along – Andrew Davis’s with the Bergen Philharmonic (on Chandos) – and now here’s another. The differences between them are quite significant. With Davis, the score sounds firmly central-European in idiom and stylistically quite progressive. Mark Elder’s Hallé, by contrast, are particularly good at catching the strongly English flavour of the work, and its umbilical connections to folk dance.
This is immediately evident in Elder’s gently melancholy account of the pastoral ‘Introduction’, and in wind playing full of bucolic character. The Hallé’s experience of recording Vaughan Williams’s symphonies with Elder is evident in the natural eloquence of the violins’ phrasing as the Sarabande launches.
But there’s bite, too. ‘Satan’s Dance of Triumph’ has a spitting menace, and the athletically bounding rhythms remind you Job is a ballet – or a ‘masque for dancing’, as the composer preferred to call it. ‘Job’s Dream’ and ‘A Vision of Satan’ are tremendously vivid too, the Hallé’s playing sharply etched and bristling with confidence. Overall, Elder’s absorbing storytelling makes one yearn to see a decent modern staging of Job on DVD and Blu-ray.
Neal Davies’s virile, operatic account of Songs of Travel is the coupling, in orchestrated versions which occasionally make them sound like second-rate Mahler, not first-rate Vaughan Williams. It’s a strong, engaging performance, but Elder’s Job is the must-listen item here. Even if you already own the reference recordings by Boult, Handley and Davis, it has something new to say, and the sound is excellent.