Richard Hickox / London Symphony Orchestra

Vaughan Williams: A Sea Symphony

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Delivered with visceral excitement and awe-inspiring majesty, Ralph Vaughan Williams' A Sea Symphony (1909) receives one of its greatest performances in this glorious super-audio recording by Richard Hickox and the London Symphony Orchestra, one to rival its predecessors and to set a high standard for others to emulate in the future. A setting of stirring poetry by Walt Whitman, this optimistic and heroic pæan to the world's oceans and sailors has never sounded warmer, richer, or deeper thanks to Chandos' direct stream digital reproduction and the amazingly realistic multichannel mix that is so vivid and evocative one expects to feel a bit "of dashing spray and the winds piping and blowing" from the speakers. With impassioned solos from baritone Gerald Finley, notably in "On the Beach at Night, Alone," and soprano Susan Gritton, and backed by the grand London Symphony Orchestra Chorus, the singing is gorgeous throughout and imbued with a reverence that makes this performance utterly convincing and profoundly moving. Because the frequency range is extremely wide, listeners may find the softest passages are almost too quiet, particularly at the end of the second movement and in the distant choral passages in "The Explorers," but the dynamics are well adjusted in the rest of the movements and virtually all internal parts and orchestral details can be heard clearly. The filler piece, Vaughan Williams' entertaining Overture to "The Wasps," is presented up front and serves as an appetizer for A Sea Symphony, though many will want to skip ahead to hear the larger work, which is sure to satisfy.

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