The authoritative recording of Ralph Vaughan Williams' Symphony No. 1, "A Sea Symphony" (1903-1909), is generally conceded to be the stirring rendition by Adrian Boult and the London Philharmonic Orchestra & Chorus, with soprano Sheila Armstrong and baritone John Carol Case, released in 1968 on EMI. But the 1970 RCA recording by André Previn should be considered a worthy competitor because it is comparable in atmosphere, power, and glorious orchestral color; it may even have an edge for its clearer details. With the London Philharmonic Orchestra & Chorus and vocal soloists Heather Harper and John Shirley-Quirk at his command, Previn's resources are quite as rich as Boult's, and he elicits a performance every bit as magnificent and mystical; both conductors achieve awe-inspiring results with this symphony, which ranks as one of the most profound choral works of the twentieth century, and transcends most English symphonies in its grand scope and cosmic import. On the down side, the sound quality is not ideal on this remastering, for the analog original comes out a little thin and the volume needs to be raised substantially to hear all the details in "On the Beach at Night Alone" and the supernally soft ending of the finale, "The Explorers." Still, this is a splendid reading, and while some may want to test it in a side-by-side comparison with Boult's or later recordings by Robert Spano or Leonard Slatkin, it stands up perfectly well on its own as a masterful interpretation and remains one of Previn's most compelling.
AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson
|Symphony No. 1 for soprano, baritone, chorus & orchestra ("A Sea Symphony")|