A Glorious Sea Symphony from Bournemouth

09/02/2017

Beethoven, Bridge, Vaughan Williams: Ailish Tynan (soprano), Benedict Nelson (baritone), Bournemouth Symphony Chorus, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra / David Hill (conductor), Lighthouse, Poole 8.2.2017. (IL)

Beethoven – Calm Sea & Prosperous Voyage

Bridge – The Sea

Vaughan Williams – A Sea Symphony

Michael Kennedy, Vaughan Williams’ biographer, once said that A Sea Symphony was his favourite amongst RVW’s nine symphonies. Mine too; I could never tire of it. I was therefore eagerly anticipating this BSO performance. I was not disappointed. This epic work contrasts the real with the mystical. The opening movement is an exciting, salty salutation to all brave sailors, the second a nocturne as the baritone reflects on being on the beach alone at night, the third an exhilarating scherzo as sailors enjoy the winds and waves. But it is the large-scale mystical finale that for me makes or breaks a performance as Walt Whitman’s verses survey, with awe and wonder, the beauty and immensity of the universe and anticipates one’s last voyage into the unknown.

David Hill, a very experienced choral conductor, drew a powerful, evocative performance with an outstanding contribution from the orchestra and the large chorus. The chorus hardly put a foot wrong, with impeccable entries and committed singing, breezy and strong and, when required, delicately poised. Irish soprano Ailish Tynan’s refined tones cruised through her demanding role. There was just a slight occasional weakness of line but how secure she was on those top notes and how strongly she projected them! Benedict Nelson, an oaken-voiced, husky baritone gave authority to his role.

I wish I could have been as enthusiastic about the supporting programme. Frank Bridge’s The Sea has long been another favourite of mine, ever since I heard Sir Charles Groves’ classic recording. Hill’s reading did not reach that sublimity. The BSO captured the more obvious melodic content beautifully but missed out when it came to a realistic evocation of the pitch and toss, the shifting, ever-changing movement of the waters that Groves so imaginatively captured.

The brief Beethoven piece was something of a potboiler and proved the immense contrast between music of 1815 and that of the early 20th century. In passing, I imagined how interesting it might have been if Hill had programmed an interesting contrast using Delius’ Songs of Farewell with A Sea Symphony? The Delius work, again settings of Walt Whitman, also features musings on one’s after-death voyaging into the unknown.

Ian Lace

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