Adrian Boult recorded Ralph Vaughan Williams' A Sea Symphony twice, first for Decca in 1952, then for EMI in 1968. Both recordings are classics for their respective eras, and each has its devout admirers. The later stereo recording has enjoyed a steady run in reissues for EMI, since it has better sound quality than the earlier mono version, which in contrast pops up only occasionally on smaller labels and seems to be available rather intermittently. This performance is one of the most stirring on disc, with brilliant solos by soprano Sheila Armstrong and baritone John Carol Case, ecstatic singing from the London Philharmonic Choir, and resolute ensemble playing from the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Vaughan Williams' paean to the world's oceans and sailors on texts by Walt Whitman requires an expansive vision, a fervent mysticism, and a deep sympathy with the late Romantic worldview, of which the composer and conductor were products: having a feeling for the grand gesture and genuine optimism toward life seem to be prerequisites for understanding and playing this epic symphony, and these attributes shine through with a sincerity that inspires belief in the music and the words, even though the heroic nautical life of Whitman's century is far from listeners' daily experience. This recording certainly takes pride of place among numerous later efforts, notably those by André Previn and Richard Hickox, and is required listening for all fans of this glorious masterpiece.
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