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Vaughan Williams: Sinfonia Antartica

4.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Audio CD, March 14, 1989
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Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. Symphony No. 7 for soprano, small female chorus & orchestra with narrator ad lib ('Sinfonia Antartica'): 1. Prelude (Andante maestos
  2. Symphony No. 7 for soprano, small female chorus & orchestra with narrator ad lib ('Sinfonia Antartica'): 2. Scherzo (Moderato)
  3. Symphony No. 7 for soprano, small female chorus & orchestra with narrator ad lib ('Sinfonia Antartica'): 3. Landscape (Lento)
  4. Symphony No. 7 for soprano, small female chorus & orchestra with narrator ad lib ('Sinfonia Antartica'): 4. Intermezzo (Andante sost
  5. Symphony No. 7 for soprano, small female chorus & orchestra with narrator ad lib ('Sinfonia Antartica'): 5. Epilogue (Alla marcia)
  6. The Wasps, Aristophanic Suite, for orchestra from the incidental music: Overture
  7. The Wasps, Aristophanic Suite, for orchestra from the incidental music: Entr'acte
  8. The Wasps, Aristophanic Suite, for orchestra from the incidental music: March past of the kitchen utensils
  9. The Wasps, Aristophanic Suite, for orchestra from the incidental music: Entr'acte
  10. The Wasps, Aristophanic Suite, for orchestra from the incidental music: Ballet and Final Tableau


Product Details

  • Audio CD (March 14, 1989)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: EMI Distribution
  • ASIN: B00000DQUW
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #433,657 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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By Bruce Eder on November 27, 2012
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 for the record, the work's premiere was conducted by Sir John Barbirolli in January of that year with the Halle Orchestra and the same soloist (Margaret Ritchie) who appeared on Boult's recording later that year. And it may, indeed, be true that the Decca recording is superior as a performance. But to date (as of 2012), Universal, which owns the Decca recording, has yet to issue a CD of that recording that captures the sonic 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, as well as risking one's equipment and the ire of one's neighbors; and if the music is set at a reasonable level, then one cannot hear what the narrator is saying.

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 is in any way "light.
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I had hoped to pick up both CDs at the same store, but the first shopping trip netted me only the Naxos version by Bakels. I had not played the Sinfonia Antartica for some time, but it did not take me long in listening to the Naxos version to hear that this was a performance and recording that was highly charged with energy. Some of the climaxes in the first movement were quite emphatic, and the organ in the third movement was recorded more powerfully than I had ever remembered hearing it. My initial feeling was that for a bargain, I was really getting bang for the buck (and I only spent about six of them). The recording was fun to listen to, and I played it a few times at home, in the car, and at work before I finally tracked down the Boult, which set me back about ten bucks.

In some ways, the Boult almost sounded like a different work. Gone were the explosive climaxes, the organ was much more diminutive, and frankly, I found myself disappointed and surprised that the Boult version seemed so tame compared to the Bakels. But I found the piece to be such an old friend, and the recordings so different, that I just kept listening to them, over and over--not really comparing them head to head, but rather trying to really get the full measure of each recording on its own terms before trying to measure each closely against the other in a more disciplined comparative listening session.

As I did this, I found the Bakels version sounding more and more mannered--even annoying at times, as in the big climaxes in the first movement, where Bakels always seemed to be telegraphing his punches. I could virtually hear the orchestra taking a deep breath and "winding up" to deliver a telling blow. This effect might be sonically exciting, but musically, it is less than satisfying.
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