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VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Job, a masque for dancing; Prelude on an old carol tune; Variations for orchestra (orch - Gordon Jacob). Munich Symphony Orchestra, Douglas Bostock. British Symphonic Collection vol. 2. Classico CLASSCD 244 [63.47]



Job has attracted quite a few recordings over the last thirty years. There are two Boults, Hickox, Handley and another for Collins. The Handley is the one which I admire most for its gravity and steady splendour. The work itself has elements of the pastoral and of the apocalyptic.

The present recording is a worthy alternative to the Handley and an antidote to the big and beefy accounts found among the competition. The sound of the orchestra is lean and strong, pliant and cleanly poetic. Listen to the classic rural poesy of tracks 5 and 12 echoing track 1.

The slow motion decay (2:50) of Satan's Dance of Triumph [4] with its foreshadowing of Scott of the Antarctic is imaginatively handled. Also I was struck by the Transatlantic shades of Roy Harris striding placidly through the pages of the Saraband of the Sons of God.

Even the different sound of the orchestra can do nothing for what I have always found to be the insufferable Dance of Job's Comforters [7] and the rum-ti-tum jollity of the Galliard [10] but this is no fault of the orchestra or conductor. I also have difficulty with the Roy Harris 4th symphony in some of its more gauche prairie cowboy songs.

The Lark Ascending meditation of the Introduction and Elihu's Dance are glowingly handled by the orchestra's concert-master ([1] [7]). If you cannot get enough of the Lark, Finzi's Introit or Harrison's Bredon Hill (rumoured to have been recorded by Lyrita for later release) then do explore Job.

The Pavane of the Sons of Morning is one of VW's noblest conceptions winding and unwinding in elegant, diaphanous and vulnerable beauty. It is very much out of the same cloth as the similarly yearning tunes from the fourth symphony and the sixth. The Altar Dance is less a dance than a reflection in meditation - a dance in slow sea-swelling motion.

The Carol Tune Prelude [13] was written as part of VW's music for a BBC Radio dramatisation of Thomas Hardy's novel 'The Mayor of Casterbridge'. It is elevated music suffused with the tragedy and rural mysticism of Hardy's powerful story. This is, I believe, a world premiere recording. It is by no means as slight as the title might suggest and there are some surprising touches (4:28)

The Variations were orchestrated by Gordon Jacob from a brass band original. Jacob had previously done a similar job for another VW work, the Old English Folk Song Suite. The Variations recorded here are rather inconsequential. All the VW hallmarks are there but with exception of one moment of quiet enlightenment at 10:02 this is not a work which attracts repeat listenings. They have been recorded previously on EMI (either Hickox or Handley). This is only their second outing in orchestral format in recent times.

The anonymous notes are good and extensive(although they would have benefited from more proof-reading) . Like the other volumes in the series they give a track by track and second by second outline of the music which enables you to follow the 'plot' with considerable ease.

The notes are in English and German with a good choice of photographs. The cover design (by Dan Eggen) is outstanding. Recording quality is fine, open and lively.

This is the second in a sequence of ten volumes planned by the Danish company ClassicO. The series will adopt a consistent approach to design and planning. The intention is that each disc will feature at least one world premiere recording. The artists here will be used throughout the series which should be complete by the end of 2000.

To date ClassicO have issued three volumes. The first included Gordon Jacob's second symphony. The third has as its centre-piece Bax's Sixth symphony with Tintagel and Overture to Adventure. ClassicO have already recorded Arthur Butterworth's Fourth Symphony and Ruth Gipps' Second. There are further exciting offerings in prospect. Withcompanies such as Lyrita presently dormant it is a delight to find that British music is finding a new additional champion.

This volume is recommended not only as part of a series but as a valuable alternative viewpoint on Job. It also offers the Hardyesque Prelude on an Old Carol Tune which I believe is a recording premiere.


Rob Barnett

and another view from David Wright

I have always been somewhat ambivalent about Vaughan Williams’ Job and for many reasons. I wonder whether the subject is suitable for dance since Biblical subjects in themselves and by their very nature have a reverential and spiritual dimension quite at odds with dance which is predominantly a secular activity. Job was ‘a perfect man that escheweth evil, a righteous man’ and his involvement in dance is as ridiculous as William the Conqueror flying a B52. While there is evident skill in classical dance it is a difficult medium to convey a story unless there is an accompanying narrative. As this work is based on William Blake’s Illustrations from the book of Job one can readily accept the fictionalisation and disembowelling of the story and the disregarding of its morality. Blake was both a remarkable and strange man. And, I fear, that Vaughan Williams has been influenced to both parody and ridicule one of the oldest books in the world but, perhaps, it suited Vaughan Williams’ agnosticism.

I cannot imagine the Sons of God dancing minuets, sarabandes, galliards or pavanes. Bearing in mind that Jobs comforters were a morose bunch I cannot visualise them dancing and not to an alto saxophone.

Yet another worrying factor is that the music, lovely as it often is, is hopelessly out of character with the story. After 40 years, I have yet to be musically menaced by Satan, experience the grief of Job or the judgemental hypocrisy of his comforters in this score.

As an untitled piece it would fare better. Much of the music is beautiful but it often meanders into melodic nullity and, occasionally, it is mawkish.

I hesitate to say such things because I believe that Vaughan Williams is, without doubt, our finest British composer in the tonal tradition.

I would like to recommend this disc since, like many others, I applaud Classico’s excellent project in recording British works. But I believe that Sir Adrian Boult’s performance with the LPO is the definitive version and it has the advantage of ‘a glorious English sound’ and a polished refinement. That is not to discredit the Munich orchestra or their performance which is very good but not quite in the same league as Boult’s.

The old carol tune is On Christmas Night the Joy-Bells Ring a melody that also appears in the 1912 Fantasia on Christmas Carols.

By far the most interesting work is the Variations for Brass Band of 1956 orchestrated by Gordon Jacob which was premièred by Sir Adrian Boult in January 1960. A theme in C major is followed by eleven variations including an alla polacca, a fugato, a profound adagio in A flat and a chorale.

The joy of this piece is the welcome reminder that Gordon Jacob was an unsurpassed orchestrator as well as a very gifted composer in his own right.

Although I have reservations about Job, let it not deter you from investigating this disc. Douglas Bostock brings out interesting detail to great effect ... but, as for me, I will remain with Sir Adrian Boult’s superb performance of a curious piece.


David Wright



Addendum submitted by Raymond Clarke

The following letter by Vaughan Williams was written in 1952 and is reproduced in full in The Works of Ralph Vaughan Williams, by Michael Kennedy (Oxford University Press, second edition, 1980, pages 315-316):

"I am amazed to hear that some...have taken exception to the beautiful words of Holst's Tomorrow shall be my Dancing Day, apparently on the grounds...that dancing and religion are something apart...

I had hoped that the killjoy and lugubrious view of religion which once obtained was now happily dead, but I fear there are still some people who have a degraded view of the dance and connect it only with high kicking and jazz, but the dance in its highest manifestations shares with music, poetry and painting, one of the greatest means of expression of the very highest of human aspirations. The dance has always been connected with religious fervour - that is, orderly and rhythmical movement surcharged with emotion.

What are the great Church ceremonies but a sublimation of the dance? What about the 150th Psalm, 'Praise Him with the timbrel and dances'? Surely Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress is full of the highest religious fervour and he makes Mr. Ready-to-Halt celebrate his deliverance by dancing. One of the most beautiful books of the Apocrypha, the Gospel of Nicodemus, contains in The Hymn of Jesus an apotheosis of the dance, 'Divine Grace is dancing, dance ye therefore'...

Yours sincerely,

R. Vaughan Williams


Rob Barnett

David Wright



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