Terry Blain

Writer and reviewer

BBC Music Magazine - - CONTENTS -

‘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.

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