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Vaughan Williams: Sinfonia Antartica/The Wasps

4.8 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Audio CD, October 11, 1991
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Product Details

  • Performer: Norma Burrowes
  • Orchestra: London Philharmonic Chorus, London Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Conductor: John Alldis, Adrian Boult
  • Composer: Ralph Vaughan Williams
  • Audio CD (October 11, 1991)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: EMI Classics
  • ASIN: B000002S2Q
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #180,608 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
THIS SYMPHONY is, definitely, one of the most important works of the 20th century. It's a heavy piece of music, not really of the quiet listening sort. Most readers will undoubtedly agree that the heart of this symphony is the Landscape movement with it's window-shattering organ passage. As a reviewer for Good-Music-Guide so promptly remarked : "The Sinfonia Antartica is a wonderful piece of music and those who dismiss it as `mere film music' are forgetting the genius of Vaughan Williams. [...] I love the novel, exotic sounds and techniques Vaughan Williams created to describe the Antarctic landscape ; you are practically transported there! It is a work of incredible musical imagination. The use of wordless soprano and chorus, the wind machine, the use of block organ chords to symbolize the glacier; they are master strokes." I couldn't agree more. There are many elements that contrive to make this fine symphonic oeuvre a master's work.

The thematic concept foreshadows the resurgence of spirit previously seen and heard in the film 'Scott of the Antarctic' and its music. Therefore, the symphony has much of a motion picture, "soundtrack-like" temperament ; still, the symphonic form stands as the core of this huge work. There is no denying of the composer's mastery of form and harmonic coloring for, as orchestral parts should go, this symphony is every bit as much efficient as his best film scores. Interpretation can do the difference, however, with more or less of a "straight" symphonic approach or within the confines of a "cinemascopic treatment"--variable from one conductor/orchestra to another. Which is exactly why one can guess, even without knowing the roots of the symphony in the first place, that it all was strongly built on music for a motion picture.
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Ordered this CD from Amazon.com and was not familiar with the recording or the conductor. A friend recommended this particular recording after we had listened to the work. The sound is great. I am amazed that the sound is almost as good as a digital recording of today. The performance is wonderful. It is apparent in the first movement that Boult truly had the vision of the picture VW was trying to create with his Antarctic Symphony. Listen to the prominent trombones. They're awesome! The mystery, fear, wonder, cold, and intrigue of the Antarctic all seam to be there. Also the liner notes are excellent for deciphering the instruments used to depict various things. On top of all that, this CD isn't full price. My understanding is that this is the best recording of this piece. I would not disagree.
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Format: Audio CD
Too much is made of the 'film music' thing with this piece, in my view. It distracts from the musical value of this astonishing work that develops on VW traditions but goes far beyond them into things that are new.

Boult concentrates on its worth as a symphony. A highly original one with experiments in sound that look well ahead to what came a decade and more later. Am I alone in hearing touches that avant-gardists like Ligeti worked further in the 1960s? The quiet introduction and closing solos of the central landscape movement over the tonal clusters of strings, woodwind, harp and the like? After getting the 'big' parts of this work into perspective, I find it's the startling, quiet, background tensions that point this music forward.

An unparalleled feat perhaps from a great composer getting greater as he grew older.

Quite remarkable invention with wonderful freshness from a man born in 1873! With that looking forward, whilst not forgetting what looks back, that is the hallmark of this 20th century great.
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Format: Audio CD
Sir Adrian Boult left behind two recordings of the Vaughan Williams Sinfonia Antartica, and the general consensus is that his earlier one, done in mono for Decca Records in 1953, is the better performance, in terms of capturing the true tone and meaning of the piece -- and that may be true. But to date (as of 2012), Universal, which owns the earlier recording, has yet to issue a CD of that recording that captures the majesty of the original LP issues, nor has it issued a CD that is balanced correctly -- to wit, if one puts the volume at a level adequate to actually hear what Sir John Gielgud is reading in the spoken portions that herald each movement, then one is fairly blasted out of one's chair by the music itself; and if the music is set at a reasonable level, then one cannot hear what the narrator is saying.

Now, as to the recording at hand, there is no narrator (the presence of which was always optional), so that problem is avoided -- and the decade-and-a-half advance in recording technology does give this recording an edge over its predecessor on purely technical grounds -- that said, it is not as overwhelmingly dark and brooding a performance as the earlier recording, though given the music itself, one would be hard-put to say that it's in any way "light."

What this CD does offer, however, without any equivocation is a still-unique recording of the five-movement suite from "The Wasps" -- a much more light-hearted piece from four decades or more earlier in the composer's life, "The Wasps" would seem to be a strange pairing with Antartica (it was originally the fourth LP side of the more closely chronologically related Sea Symphony), yet the two have been joined at the hip in various EMI incarnations for more than two decades.
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