Seaman’s Valedictory RVW London Symphony

04.06.12
Christopher Seaman
ClassicsToday.com

By David Hurwitz

RALPH VAUGHAN WILLIAMS
Serenade to Music
A London Symphony (Symphony No. 2)
Singers from Mercury Opera Rochester

Christopher Seaman (conductor)
Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra
Harmonia Mundi - 807567
SACD

Artistic Quality: 10
Sound Quality: 9

Christopher Seaman knows this music very well, obviously, and for his valedictory recording with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra he turns in performances as fine as any in the catalog. His vision of A London Symphony has the swiftness and edge of the best modern performances in the first movement, but his genial and somewhat relaxed scherzo brings echos of Barbirolli’s second version, particularly in the trio, which is full of aptly cartoonish wit at this tempo (you can hear this for yourself by clicking on the sound sample below). In the Lento second movement Seaman pays careful attention to rhythm and flow; the climax is passionate but urgent, never merely heavy. It’s a very beautiful performance, and the tricky finale is perfectly paced, with a huge central climax and a wonderfully atmospheric epilog.

The Serenade is presented here in its original version for 16 solo singers. The sopranos from the Mercury Opera Rochester are excellent; everyone else is acceptable to very good. Of course the music is simply gorgeous, and the vocal ensemble sounds particularly fine in tutti passages. The work was composed for the conductor Henry Wood, and although he died in 1944, the liner notes date his earthly departure as 1934, after which he must have risen from the grave to conduct the work’s premiere in 1938. The only caveat in connection with this release concerns the engineering: the microphones capture what I presume to be a good bit of snorting and wheezing from the podium. It’s not omnipresent, but it does make an oddly obtrusive contribution at a couple of points. For my money, the quality of the performances more than compensates for any annoyance–make no mistake, the music-making is special.