Vaughan Williams: Job; Symphony No 9 CD review – Lucid and impressive, tough and defiant

Bergen PO/Davis
(Chandos)

With Edward Gardner now firmly established as the orchestra’s music director and Andrew Davis as one of its regular guest conductors, the Bergen Philharmonic is certainly getting a thorough grounding in 20th-century British music. With this disc, Davis has completed the comprehensive Vaughan Williams series that the late Richard Hickox began for Chandos. It pairs the last of the symphonies with what is often regarded as the composer’s greatest orchestral work, Job: A Masque for Dancing, which has a scenario by Geoffrey Keynes based on William Blake’s illustrations of the Old Testament Book of Job. The score was first performed in concert in 1930 and staged by the Vic-Wells Ballet the following year, with choreography by Ninette de Valois.

Davis recorded both works in the same coupling for Teldec in the 1990s, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. There’s little to choose between the two discs. As before, Davis’s path through Job is totally lucid, and his handling of the great climaxes is impressive, with the organ (recorded in Bergen Cathedral) weighing in emphatically for the appearance of Satan in the sixth scene. But though the 17th-century courtly dance forms that are studded through the score – pavan, galliard, minuet, saraband – are outlined with great elegance and care, the performance as a whole seems slightly short on radiance, and the epilogue lacks the sense of consoling warmth it really needs. But in both works, the playing of the Bergen orchestra is exemplary, though the saxophone used by Williams to symbolise Job’s hypocritical comforters in the sixth scene, sounds curiously glutinous, not reedy at all.

the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra.
The Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra. Photograph: Oddleiv Apneseth

There are more saxophones, three of them, in the Ninth Symphony, as well as a flugelhorn, which takes centre stage in the slow movement, and a variety of tintinnabulating percussion. But, as Davis demonstrates, the work is not just an experiment in exotic sonorities, but a last tough, defiant statement from a composer who never stopped exploring new musical territory, It makes a telling, fierce contrast to the humane acceptance that’s embodied in Job.

Contributor

Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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