VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Symphony No 7. Concerto for Two Pianos
Here’s the final instalment in the Vaughan Williams symphony cycle launched so propitiously all those years ago by Richard Hickox and the LSO with a big-hearted, flexible reading of the Fifth (3/99). Like Andrew Davis’s powerful coupling of Job and the Ninth Symphony (3/17), this newcomer finds both the Bergen PO and Chandos recording-team on stellar form in a programme as absorbing as it is generous.
Davis’s splendidly unforced account of the Sinfonia antartica comfortably takes its place very near the head of the pack. Any marginal reservations I harbour surround the first two movements, where Haitink (EMI/Warner, 10/85) locates an extra grit and determination in the Prelude, and Handley (CfP/Warner, 9/91) brings a touch greater playfulness to the penguins’ gawky antics in the Moderato scherzando Trio section. Otherwise I have nothing but praise for the imposing sweep, sense of dread and jaw-dropping spectacle distilled in ‘Landscape’, compassionate warmth of the Intermezzo and implacable, awesome mystery conveyed by the work’s closing pages. Top-notch contributions from soprano Mari Eriksmoen and the combined choirs add to the considerable pleasure. The recording has stunning depth, truth of perspective and naturalness of timbre to commend it.
High marks, too, for the expert balance struck by the engineers in the Concerto for two pianos and orchestra. Having already praised the Dutton team of Leon McCawley and John Lenehan with Martin Yates and the RSNO (10/15), I’m bound to say I’m even more taken with this latest collaboration featuring the established Canadian duo of Louis Lortie and Hélène Mercier. Not only do they find an extra rapture and poise in the luminous central Romanza and ethereal epilogue, Davis and the Bergen PO offer magnificent support throughout. That said, do make sure you also investigate the exhilaratingly craggy and searchingly intense original version of the concerto (which Bartók so admired when he heard dedicatee Harriet Cohen perform it in 1933).
Sandwiched between the main offerings comes a welcome second recording for the Four Last Songs (1954‑58, to words by Ursula Vaughan Williams) in the exquisitely idiomatic orchestration that Anthony Payne made in 2013 (listen out for stylistic echoes of the Sinfonia antartica and Ninth Symphony in the sublime No 4, ‘Menelaus’). Baritone Roderick Williams is in resplendent voice and generates an unfailingly eloquent rapport with Davis and company. All told, a distinguished release.