Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
The complete symphonies - Boult's 1950s mono cycle

Symphony No. 1 A Sea Symphony (1909) [67,46]
Symphony No. 2 A London Symphony (1913) [43.58]
Symphony No. 3 A Pastoral Symphony (1921) [34.57]
Symphony No. 4 (1931) [33.54]
Symphony No. 5 (1943) [36.34]
Symphony No. 6 (1947) [38.33]
Symphony No. 7 Sinfonia Antartica (1952) [44.53]
Symphony No. 8 (1955) [28.05]
Symphony No. 9 (1956) [34.53]
John Cameron (ten)
Isobel Baillie (sop)
London Philharmonic Choir
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Adrian Boult
Rec. 1-8 Kingsway Hall, Sea Symphony: 28-31 May 1953; London Symphony: 8-11 January 1952; Pastoral: 13 December 1952; 4-5: 2-4 December 1953; 6: 5, 28-31 Dec 1953; Antartica: 10-11 December 1953; 8: 7-8 September 1956; 9: Walthamstow Town Hall, 27 August 1958.
DECCA - THE BRITISH MUSIC COLLECTION 473 241-2 [5CDs: 67.46+79.30+72.17+74.21+73.22]


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Yes, that's right! The complete RVW symphonies on Decca from Boult and the LPO. These are with one crucial exception the same recordings that emerged in the sixties on Ace of Clubs LPs then on Eclipse budget vinyls. The CD era saw these mono recordings emerge on Belart and then on the Australian Eloquence series. All previous entities have had to make do with the first eight symphonies as Boult did not record the Ninth with Decca. Instead the Ninth appeared, also in mono, on Everest, since subsumed into Omega. It is now thanks to both the late lamented Omega and Decca that at last this pioneering mono version of the cycle can be presented complete. It must have been a close squeak though as Omega ceased operating as recently as couple of months ago.

The cycle is well known and Bill Hedley wrote about it not so very long ago so only a few observations as we go along. A Sea Symphony catches Boult in golden form and his soloists have never sounded better. If Boult's EMI Classics stereo cycle is resplendently recorded by Messrs Bishop and Parker it is this mono traversal that finds everyone in blazing form. Boult's furious petulance matched by the LPO can be heard in the rage and rip of the scherzo. Boult was always good at the metaphysical and visionary side and the surge and undertow of the Whitman's waters. But his hell-for-leather tendencies (also on the two Boult/LPO Sibelius tone poem anthologies on Omega) are not always best appreciated. A London Symphony is all quicksilver and mystery and while it sounds very well (try the scherzo) I do miss the extra atmosphere and airiness that comes with the EMI version. The Third and the Fifth share a CD and they segue neatly with the last movement of the Third which opens with a typically late Sibelian gesture (just before Margaret Ritchie's soft vocalisation) preceding the Nordic horn motif that launches the mystical and prayerful Fifth in which Boult conjures the forward force of progress more effectively than in the 1960s version. The Sixth and Fourth share the smoke and cordite of the same furies and each flares and flames. Try the rising eldritch violins at 1.39 in first movement of the Sixth. The Seventh is successfully put across. It sounds very good. The Eighth is in stereo but is prone to some distortion currently beyond digital restoration.

The Ninth has the least hiss and was recorded within months of the work's premiere under Sargent. It is also in stereo. The Ninth was made more than six years after the first sessions for this cycle … and it shows. Everest's recording is closer, gripping, faithful and unflinching in putting across the Hardy-inspired cold majesty of the piece.

The cycle is presented digitally remastered at 96 KHz. It sounds better than ever but no matter how much renovation work we are still dealing with mono originals from the 1950s. Hiss is present though not a distracting issue. There is a roughened texture to the sound of London Philharmonic Choir but the voices of Cameron and Baillie register with a luxurious security never before achieved from these masters.

The recordings were made in the Kingsway Hall and the producer/engineer team was John Culshaw and Kenneth Wilkinson. The composer attended all the sessions except those for the Ninth Symphony. He died some seven hours before the start of those Everest sessions.

The notes are by Michael Kennedy so we know we are in trustworthy hands.

The texts of A Sea Symphony and the superscriptions to Antartica are all there in the booklet.

These are classic historic recordings. For RVW enthusiasts they represent a classic page in the history of these symphonies. At one stage they were the only ‘page’.

Rob Barnett

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