VAUGHAN WILLIAMS A Sea Symphony
‘Steer for the deep waters only’, exhorts the poet in the last movement (‘The Explorers’) of A Sea Symphony, and that’s precisely what Sir Mark Elder and his intrepid Hallé forces do here. Make no mistake, Elder presides over a majestic performance, brimful of lofty spectacle, abundant temperament and stunning accomplishment. In both outer movements especially the towering climaxes are built and resolved with unassailable mastery – and I don’t think I’ve ever been more aware just of how touchingly the slow movement’s coda foreshadows its counterpart in A London Symphony. Some might conceivably crave fractionally greater bite and thrust in the scherzo, but the gloriously ambitious finale is held together with effortless authority, those sublimely contemplative and illimitably rapt closing pages as full of questing wonder as I can ever recall.
As for the soloists, baritone Roderick Williams is on customarily refulgent and intelligent form; soprano Katherine Broderick, too, sings with heaps of passion and drama, her thrilling top B towards the end of the first movement riding the massive swell in a way that even recalls Dame Isobel Baillie on Boult’s classic (and still unassailable) 1953 Decca recording. The superbly honed choral and orchestral contribution surely testifies to many hours of painstaking preparation, and Steve Portnoi’s Bridgewater Hall production (taken from a combination of rehearsals and a concert in March 2014) accommodates the intrepidly wide range of dynamic with ease.
Borne as it is on virtually as irresistible a symphonic current as the mono Boult, Handley (EMI, 2/89) and Haitink (1/90), Elder’s is the most satisfying Sea Symphony I’ve encountered in many a moon, and no one collecting his RVW symphony cycle with the Hallé need have any qualms acquiring it.