VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Job. Symphony No 9
This generous coupling of two RVW masterworks reprises – and outshines – Andrew Davis’s own Teldec British Line offering from two decades ago with the BBC SO. Job receives a performance of striking composure, lustre and palpable dedication. Not only do the Bergen Philharmonic respond with notable poise and eagerness (solo contributions are of the highest quality throughout), Davis conducts with unobtrusive authority as well as a sure hand on the structural tiller, uncovering a wealth of telling harmonic and textural detail along the way; certainly, in ‘Job’s Dream’ the violas’ non divisi E natural octave (additionally marked mf and espressivo) at fig Bb or 1'08" registers to subtle perfection here. Perhaps the last ounce of gleeful malice remains elusive in ‘Satan’s Dance of Triumph’ (where, incidentally, I don’t hear the third trombone in the six bars leading up to fig O – try from 0'08" in track 3), whereas the ‘Dance of Plague, Pestilence, Famine and Battle’ in scene 4 now distils a welcome quotient of frenzy missing from its oddly jaunty London-based predecessor. The spectacularly vivid and wide-ranging Chandos engineering handles everything with aplomb, not least that hair-raising organ- and timpani-writing in scene 6 (the best I’ve heard since Handley’s 1983 LPO version).
There’s heaps to praise, too, in Davis’s scrupulously observant and nobly unforced conception of the Ninth Symphony – and, once again, what admirably vital and shapely playing he draws from the Bergen orchestra (bouquets to the highly characterful trio of saxophones and Martin Winter’s gorgeously mellow-toned flugelhorn). The dusky second movement is especially evocative of the Wessex landscape in Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles (which provided the symphony’s initial spark), its glorious second subject wonderfully affecting in its full-throated ardour (and deeply touching on its wraith-like return in the coda). Come the visionary finale, clear-sighted rigour goes hand in hand with a questing spirit to cap a mightily impressive Ninth that, to my mind, deserves a place at the top table alongside the 1969 Boult, Handley and Haitink.