Andrew Manze / James Ehnes / Sarah Fox / Mark Stone / Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir / Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra

Vaughan Williams: A Sea Symphony; The Lark Ascending

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Scored for soprano and baritone vocalists, chorus, and large orchestra, Ralph Vaughan Williams' A Sea Symphony (1910) is an uplifting setting of the epic poetry of Walt Whitman, whose stirring writing was favored by other British composers of the early 20th century, including Gustav Holst, Frederick Delius, and Hamilton Harty. The optimism of such texts as Song of the Exposition, A Song for All Seas, All Ships, On the Beach at Night Alone, After the Sea-ship, and The Explorers (excerpted from Passage to India) inspired Vaughan Williams to write his first and longest symphony, and to give it some of the most ambitious music he had composed to that point in his career. This recording by Andrew Manze and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir is a robust account that follows conventional tempos and dynamics, and captures many fine details in the orchestration that are sometimes lost in less scrupulously articulated versions. Sarah Fox and Mark Stone are in fine voice for their overlapping duets in the first and final movements, and Stone is particularly expressive in the brooding second movement, which requires sustained intensity to carry the brooding, introspective mood. The symphony is paired with The Lark Ascending (1920), a popular romance for violin and orchestra that features James Ehnes as the soloist in a moving performance that is as quiet and intimate as the symphony is powerful and cosmic in its grandeur. Onyx provides evenly balanced sound with a wide frequency range, so the volume may need some adjusting to hear all the nuances.

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