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Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and Christopher Seaman

Vaughan Williams: A London Symphony; Serenade to Music

(Harmonia Mundi; US: 13 Mar 2012; UK: Import)

Christopher Seaman had been Music Director of the Rochester Philharmonic since 1998. He bowed out last year with this recording of Vaughan Williams’ “London Symphony”, performed first in 1914 and finalized by the composer in 1936. In 1920, Williams stated that the Symphony was non-representational—“The title ... may suggest to some hearers a descriptive piece but this is not the intention of the composer”—but if Westminster chimes plus car-impressions plus English folk tunes don’t shout London, then don’t ask me what does. Call it London-inspired. The Empire is winding down but the city is busy and the “Symphony” is mostly exterior-directed, with the instruments taking on the character of motor traffic, people traffic, people in parks, people playing martial marches, people in groups, not solitary, a bridge between the classical orchestra and the age of the mass, the machine, and workers’ rights, the same age that saw the old, swirling, rousing symphonic style affected by experimental tonal work. Seaman emphasizes drama, contrast, luster: the quick refrain pings, the marches are stirring, the forte is forte. “Serenade to Music” is a valuable insertion at the end of this otherwise instrumental disc. Needing 16 expert voices, it’s not often recorded. Williams lifts his lyrics from The Merchant of Venice. “There’s not the smallest orb that thou behold’st / But in his motion like an angel sings.”

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