Sinfonia antartica*; Symphony No. 9; Norfolk Rhapsody No. 1; The Lark Ascending†
†Lyn Fletcher (violin); *Sophie Bevan (soprano); *Members of the Hallé Choir; Hallé Orchestra/Mark Elder
Halle CD HLD 7558 106:49 mins (2 discs)
The Hallé premiered Sinfonia antartica in January 1953, and recorded it six months later. John Barbirolli was the conductor on both occasions, and his interpretation is generally more visceral and urgent than Mark Elder’s in this Hallé live performance.
Elder, by contrast, puts greater emphasis on the forbidding vastness of the Antarctic ice-scapes encountered by Scott and his colleagues on their ill-fated expedition. His opening Prelude distils a sense of panoramic awe, which deepens in the central Lento to imperilled trepidation as the glacier threatens. The intervening Scherzo, with its famous waddling penguins, is perhaps a touch deliberate, but Elder’s Epilogue is powerfully shaped, the ghostly fade-to-white at the conclusion chillingly inscrutable. The Hallé’s playing mixes grandeur and tragedy, with Sophie Bevan’s siren soprano and the voiceless chorus atmospherically integrated.
The Ninth Symphony, Vaughan Williams’s last, is a studio recording, but if anything even more strongly committed. Elder is keenly attuned to the dark uncertainties that haunt the work, and is particularly effective in an ominous account of the opening movement, and a combustible Scherzo. The sound is slightly fuller than in the dryish Bridgewater Hall for the Antartica.
Both Norfolk Rhapsody No. 1 and The Lark Ascending come from an earlier Hallé release, but are well worth revisiting. It concludes Elder and the Hallé’s cycle of Vaughan Williams’s symphonies, one which has been consistently gripping in its trenchant honesty and patient empathy for the composer’s idiom.