Naxos is in the process of recording all of this
composer’s symphonies. Up until this release there have been seven
releases. They have all been conducted by Kees Bakels, with the
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Now, for some reason, Paul Daniel
steps on to the podium to replace Bakels for the largest of the
nine and the only choral symphony apart from the female chorus
parts in No. 7.
Vaughan Williams took texts from Whitman’s "Leaves
of Grass" as the basis of his symphony (not known as a symphony
until later). He was influenced by Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius,
and the choral works of Stanford and Parry. Wanting to free himself
from the yoke of Germanic writing, the composer used British folk
music to stunning effect. In many parts of the symphony, the influence
of folk melodies is surely evident for all of us to enjoy, and
early audiences were similarly affected, given its popularity
in its early years.
The current disc contains a very fine performance
and it is in current modern characteristics. It seems to me that
with solo singers, it is thought that the more vibrato that can
be displayed, the better, and both Joan Rodgers and Christopher
Maltman have this feature in abundance. For me, this ruins the
disc, but others who are not similarly affected by this currently
fashionable style will find much to enjoy.
The Naxos engineers balance the forces well and
there is no competition between chorus and orchestra. The recording
sounds very natural and even the soloists are balanced well against
Paul Daniel has the measure of the symphony although
here and there, percussion and the rest of the orchestra are not
totally together – maybe there should have been one or two retakes
to correct these slight errors. The opening of the first movement
has one or two of these errors, but none is serious.
The Bournemouth Symphony Chorus is a very fine
ensemble, with clear diction and plenty of spirit. Indeed, the
Chorus and the Orchestra are the strongest participants here.
After listening carefully to this disc, I don’t
think that either Sir Adrian Boult or better still, Sir Bernard
Haitink, have any fear of competition in this symphony. The latter
won a Gramophone Award some years ago, and it still sounds as
fresh now as it did then.
If you are looking for a brand new recording
of this fascinating symphony, this Naxos release will fill the
bill admirably, provided the features I have raised do not cause
you a problem. Both of the earlier EMI discs have greater impact,
but this may not be a serious problem, particularly given the
low price of the current release. It will be interesting to see
if Paul Daniel will be entrusted with the last symphony in the
cycle – I certainly hope so, as this does not have soloists to
cause the problem which is clearly evident here.