Andrew Manze / Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra / Timothy West

Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 7 "Antartica"; Symphony No. 9 in E minor

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The Vaughan Williams symphony series by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Andrew Manze has offered a number of fine moments, seemingly arising from Manze's background in early music; he does not overdo anything, and he strips back the scores to reveal many details, especially in the quiet percussion. These traits are quite valuable in the Symphony No. 7 ("Sinfonia Antartica"), which had its origins in the film score, Scott of the Antarctic. Manze makes a convincing case for the work as a genuine symphony rather than a repurposed film score. His second movement is a true Scherzo; it is a muscular, and even thrilling, reading. The problem here is that Manze opts for readings of the literary quotations with which Vaughan Williams prefaces each movement. This doesn't mesh well with the attacca opening to the fourth movement (Timothy West sandwiches his text in over the last chord of the Lento). Even more telling, the work was completed five years before Vaughan Williams' death, and if he had wanted the work to be performed this way, there was plenty of time for him to establish such a performance tradition. The choral and vocal parts of the symphony have an appropriately mystical tone, and both symphonies benefit from strong engineering work from the Onyx team in Liverpool's Philharmonic Hall. The Symphony No. 9 in E minor, an impressive accomplishment for the 86-year-old composer, fares well. The work was criticized at its premiere for thickness of orchestration, but Manze, like the symphony's early champion Leopold Stokowski, picks its layers apart effectively. Sample the fine saxophone work from the Liverpool players in the first movement. Recommended for those who are willing to accept Manze's decision about the text for the sake of argument.

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