Vaughan Williams: A Sea Symphony

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COMPOSERS: Vaughan Williams
WORKS: A Sea Symphony
PERFORMER: Benita Valente (soprano), Thomas Allen (baritone); Philharmonia Orchestra & Chorus/Leonard Slatkin
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 61197 2 DDD
For Sancta Civitas (1926) Vaughan Williams turned to the Book of Revelation to base his musical vision of the Holy City whilst Dona nobis pacem (1936) uses three contrasting Walt Whitman war-poems framed by words from the Latin Mass in an impassioned plea for peace. Massive choral and orchestral forces are used in both works, including distant chorus and trumpet used to awe-inspiring effect in Sancta Civitas. Hickox draws powerful and intensely moving performances from all concerned, aided by a bright and detailed recording in a nicely resonant acoustic. Terfel and Kenny sing with conviction and commitment, the LSO brass are brilliant and the chorus consistently fine.


Walt Whitman’s poetry also inspired RVW’s Sea Symphony. Again employing large choral and orchestral forces, it embraces not just the sea, ships and the fate of sailors but also a wider, more mystical view of the universe and the voyage of the soul. Slatkin responds to the colour, drama and vitality of the music but ultimately this performance is disappointing because of the way he handles the crucial opening section of The Explorers – too much awe, too little warmth and emotion. A pity because there is much to commend – Thomas Allen sings with great authority and sensitivity and the Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus are splendid throughout. Of available modern recordings Haitink is preferred, with Boult still supreme. Ian Lace