Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 9, Job - Davis
Chandos CHSA 5180
Classical - Orchestral
Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 9, Job - A Masque for Dancing
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
Sir Andrew Davis (conductor)
The projected complete cycle of Vaughan Williams’s symphonies started by the late Richard Hickox has left a precious heritage in the discography of the composer.
Now, conducting the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, that other expert in British repertoire, Sir Andrew Davis, takes on the challenge of completing the series with idiomatic interpretations of two masterpieces: the final Symphony (No. 9) and the ballet Job.
The score of Job places an emphasis on tableau-like scenes, dances, and mime, linking it to a tradition of English ballet with dances from the seventeenth century, including the saraband, pavane, and galliard. In this masterly score, Vaughan Williams captures the conflict between good and evil, between the spiritual and the material. Job shows a strength, beauty, nobility, and visionary power which unite the many different facets of Vaughan Williams’s musical style. The poignant and musically enigmatic Symphony No. 9 marks ‘the end of Ralph’s life and [is] a turning point. It is leading out into another place. It is extraordinary’, as the composer’s wife stated after one of the early performances.
The subtle direction of Sir Andrew Davis combined with the pure sound quality of this SACD does full justice to Hickox’s great enterprise and promises a powerful conclusion of this already acclaimed recorded cycle.
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Review by Graham Williams - February 10, 2017
The task of completing the Chandos cycle of Vaughan Williams symphonies following the untimely death of Richard Hickox in 2008 has fallen to Sir Andrew Davis whose long experience in the interpretation of this composer's music is already well-documented. Davis has previously recorded a CD of the two works featured on this new recording in 1995 with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, but this is the first appearance of either of them on SACD.
' Job – A Masque for Dancing' is one of the finest orchestral works Vaughan Williams produced and over the years it has received many noteworthy recordings, including no less than four from the work's dedicatee Sir Adrian Boult, while Richard Hickox made a richly expansive version of it with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra for EMI in 1992.
Davis's tempi are in general slightly more urgent than those adopted by Hickox, but it was only at the very opening that Davis seemed a touch impatient for a passage marked 'Largo sostenuto'. Elsewhere he captures the work's drama and visionary quality with great success thanks to the superb playing he elicits from the Bergen Philharmonic. Sections such as 'Satan's Dance of Triumph' have terrific power and menace while Davis's handling of the more reflective passages, for example, the 'Dance of the Three Messengers' allows some lovely wind solos to make their mark. The violin solo from Alexander Kagan in 'Elihu's Dance of Youth and Beauty' deserves special praise for the wonderfully expressive and poignant quality of his playing. Needless to say in Scene VI the huge tam-tam stroke and thunderous organ entry that depicts a vision of Satan seated on the throne of God make for a spine tingling moment.
The Grieghallen, Bergen provides the ideal spacious acoustic for this music and it is fair to say that the magnificent sound quality that the Chandos team have achieved on this 5.0 multi-channel SACD is unmatched by any previous recordings of 'Job'.
Davis is equally successful in the other work on this disc Vaughan Williams' 9th Symphony which appeared almost thirty years after 'Job'. Although this symphony is heavily scored with a sombre and often grim visage, the composer's exploration of unusual orchestral sonorities, including the use of three saxophones and a flugelhorn, gives it a unique character. The Bergen orchestra again play beautifully under Davis's expert direction with notably incisive contributions from the percussion in the humorous Scherzo. Again the recording quality does full justice to Davis's compelling performance.
This disc is an absolute winner and makes one impatient for the final issue in this cycle (Sinfonia Antartica) to appear.
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