Vaughan Williams Sinfonia Antartica, Etc
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Audio CD, Hybrid SACD - DSD, Import, 6 October 2017
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- Is Discontinued By Manufacturer : No
- Product Dimensions : 14.2 x 12.5 x 1.3 cm; 121.9 Grams
- Manufacturer : CHANDOS
- Original Release Date : 2017
- Label : CHANDOS
- ASIN : B07578TXZ3
- Number of discs : 1
- Customer Reviews:
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This is the eagerly awaited final volume in our historic series of Vaughan Williams s Symphonies, started about twenty-five years ago by the late Richard Hickox, and recently continued by that other expert in British repertoire, Sir Andrew Davis.
The album features an exceptional cast and a rare combination of repertoire. While the indefatigable piano duo Louis Lortie and Hélène Mercier tackle the virtuosic Double Piano Concerto, the baritone Roderick Williams OBE offers breathtaking interpretations of the rarely heard, yet passionate Four Last Songs, in Anthony Payne s delicate and imaginative orchestration, premiered at the BBC Proms only four years ago. Vaughan Williams based the disc s centrepiece, the majestic Sinfonia Antartica, on music he had written for the film Scott of the Antarctic only a few years before, stunningly evoking the implacable, frozen landscape of the Antarctic.
All are supported by the impeccable Bergen orchestra and choirs and recorded in surround-sound. This album is a very special one, as is the now complete series.
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The Four Last Songs of 1954-58 (titled with Richard Strauss in mind, perhaps?) are indeed products of the composer's final years, and were conceived as settings with piano of poems by Ursula Wood, RVW's second wife. The orchestral version recorded here was commissioned from Anthony Payne (he of the 'elaboration' of Elgar's Third Symphony), and it could easily have come from Vaughan Williams himself. Indeed, Payne confesses that he referred to the composer's own orchestration of some of the Songs of Travel prior to his producing his own. The 'collaboration' between the two composers and poet certainly bears fruit, for there is no weak link: Ursula Wood was a fine poet in her own right, and is utterly worthy to have been set. 'Tired' is perhaps the most touching of the songs here, given that the underlying poem is said to have been inspired by Ursula's seeing the old composer asleep by the fireside.
Sensibly, the Four Songs are places second in the programme, between the two more emotionally draining works, the second of these being the Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra (1926-31).This work was originally conceived for one piano only and dedicated to the darling of the day, Harriet Cohen; but it is a big-boned, muscular work which explores the percussive potential of the solo instrument and makes enormous demands of the soloist. It really requires a pianist with large hands to bring it off successfully, and Cohen's dainty hands were never really adequate for the job. Joseph Cooper made the two piano version with the composer's full approval, in 1946, and specifically at the request of the husband and wife duo, Phyllis Sellick and Cyril Smith. Even in this version, doubts were expressed about whether the work was really performable. However, pianistic techniques have made great strides during the past seventy years or so, and young energetic performers now seem more ready for the challenge. One of the fruits of the two-piano reworking was a new, serene ending to the piece provided by Vaughan Williams himself. The wonderful radiance of the final cadence in the strings is reminiscent of the mood of the Fifth Symphony which had been completed during the interim between the original and revised versions.
The performances on this CD can hardly be faulted, and the recording quality is well up to Chandos's usual impeccable standard. Even listeners who already have one (or more) versions of the works on this disc will be delighted by what they can learn from these new ones.