Writer and reviewer
‘Vaughan Williams’s A Sea Symphony does much more than simply describe the sea. Walt Whitman’s poetry hymns the spiritual power of the natural world, and VW matches it with music of visionary insight and intensity.’
ADRIAN BOULT GAVE A Sea Symphony its first recording in 1953, and many collectors continue to swear by the crackling urgency of that pioneering interpretation. The stereo remake is, however, a great performance in its own right, and is tough to topple as the best available version.
It is, to begin with, much better recorded than its mono predecessor, with excellent balances between choir, soloists and orchestra, and a satisfyingly meaty impact from brass instruments in particular. No conductor catches better than Boult (right) the elation of the work’s mighty opening paragraph, with a full-throated, confidently prepared
London Philharmonic Choir making a stirring contribution. The soloists are also highly effective. Baritone John Carol Case’s ‘On The Beach At Night, Alone’ is an object lesson in clear diction and poised singing at low dynamic levels; the young soprano Sheila Armstrong (then just 26) is creamytextured and wonderfully committed.
It is, though, Boult’s inimitable nobility of utterance which really marks out this performance as special. He was approaching 80 when the recording was made, but his grip is undiminished, as is his ability to inject fire into an orchestra’s belly – nobody matches the bacchanalian swirl he summons at ‘Away O Soul!’, as the final voyage to ‘the seas of God’ beckons. This is a classic performance, by one of the great Vaughan Williams interpreters.