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Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Symphony No. 7 Sinfonia Antarctica
American Symphony Orchestra with (unidentified) narrator and soprano and Womenís Chorus/Ainslee Cox,
New York premiere performance, 13th April 1970
Robert SIMPSON (1921-1997)

Symphony No. 3
Oklahoma City Symphony Orchestra/Ainslee Cox
American premiere performance, 8th December 1974
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)

Elegy for Strings Op. 58
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Ainslee Cox
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This CD derives from an unusual source and I would direct readers to the information above; distribution is likely to be limited. Pared to the bone with no notes and a bare minimum of discographic information this disc nevertheless enshrines two important premieres Ė the first New York performance of VWís Sinfonia Antarctica and the first ever American performance of Robert Simpsonís Third Symphony. As a pendant we have Elgarís Elegy. All these performances are conducted by Ainslee Cox, a most talented Stokowski protégé, who continued to shine illuminating light in North American musical life.

There are considerable aural problems to surmount in the case of the VW, which seems to have been recorded privately, most probably on a hand-held cassette recorder. As a result the superscriptions are well nigh inaudible and the speaker (and soprano soloist) are anonymous. There is also a great deal of tape hiss and slight dropouts and the sound is very congested. These are the associated hazards of such a recording but one should take a broader view. This was an important occasion and the performance has considerable interpretative stamp. True there is less sweep here than there is in the classic 1953 Boult, who maintains an implacable, incremental and monumental drive. Cox cleaves seemingly closer to a Brucknerian view of the opening movement, and continues with bluff urgency in the second and a slightly greater urgency in the third movement. Despite the hiss and a few blips the brass and percussion register with serious insistence. In the fourth movement he takes a near identical tempo to the Boult, being warm and fluent, though he differs in the long finale. Boult explicitly relates this to the first movement Ė measured, inexorable and non troppo. Cox scents another route; heís quick, animated, and decisive.

Coupled with the VW is Simpsonís Third Symphony. Dedicated to Havergal Brian this was premiered by the City of Birmingham Symphony and Hugo Rignold in 1963. Its first recording was the famous LSO/Horenstein of 1970 in which he cleaved to the written timing of 31 minutes. Cox is significantly quicker, shaving off some two and a half minutes, and taking a more determined direction. The recording is a significant improvement over the VW though it remains boxy and constricted. The Oklahoma City Symphony Orchestra lacks the heft to do full justice to the punchier moments in the score though itís instructive to hear Cox take the contrapuntal passages faster than Horenstein, heightened by the rhythmically charged drama he brings to the first movement generally. In the second there is real tension but not quite the level of depth that Horenstein brings, though Cox certainly catches the skirl and theatrical drive of the vast accelerando as it surges in motion. Itís against Horenstein that Cox should be measured here; Simpsonites will have the Handley-Hyperion which offers an altogether different listening experience. The Elgar Elegy makes for a charming encore.

So two important American performances led by a conductor of strong and determined viewpoints. The recordings are certainly crude in places but the experience is visceral and in part tactile. This is a specialists-only release of course, but they will find it full of compelling detail and incident. It may also be salutary to become re-acquainted with Cox who veered off the British radar for many years and a visit from whom, before his untimely death in 1988, would have been welcome.

Jonathan Woolf

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