Thanksgiving for Victory, Serenade to Music, Job: A Masque for Dancing. 

Sir Adrian Boult, recorded 1944/46


Volume 2 in Somm’s invaluable contribution to Vaughan Williams’ 150th Anniversary year are three radio broadcasts – two live, one recorded – by the great RVW interpreter Sir Adrian Boult. The three recordings come from off-air recordings that have been miraculously revitalised by Lani Spahr. 

The disc opens with the Thanksgiving for Victory. This was a BBC commission for a work to be ready if/when the Nazi war machine was defeated. As no one knew when ‘Victory’ might be declared, the performance on this disc was recorded on November 5, 1944, although not broadcast until May 13 the following year. It is very much a work of its time, inventively scored for solo soprano, chorus, narrator, organ and orchestra. It does manage to avoid jingoism, though the sepulchral tones of narrator Valentine Dyall -‘the Man in Black’- sound very dated. The sound quality however is not dated, rather it is very good for the period.

The Serenade to Music. is my favourite work by RVW and I was very excited to hear this BBC broadcast. The version here is the seldom heard arrangement for four soloists, chorus and orchestra. Three of the original 16 soloists Isobel Baillie, Astra Desmond and Harold Williams sing here with tenor Bradridge White (not Beveridge as in the notes). The latter has rather a thin tone and struggles on some of the higher parts.  The opposite is true of baritone Mr Williams who struggles to get to the lower ones. Isobel Baillie is glorious in her original sections but is no substitute for Eva Turner in hers. All in all, this is the least satisfactory part of this release.  Add to this somewhat murky sound and it can only be of historic interest.

The final work is of enormous interest, being a performance of Job – A Masque for Dancing given in 1946 by Boult and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, who are hardly ever heard in this repertoire. It is marvellous to hear a non-British orchestra giving their all to this magnificent score. Satan’s Dance and the Dance of Plague are terrifying, the Minuet of the Sons of Job and their Wives has never sounded more middle eastern.

The solo saxophone in Job’s Comforters is less sleazily theatrical than usual, while the solo violin in Elihu’s Dance of Youth and Beauty is simply and unaffectedly phrased.  There is some distortion on very loud climaxes and there is no organ in the Vision of Satan (Symphony Hall Boston did not get its organ till 1949), but this is as exciting a performance of the work as I know and the remastering quite incredible. Ninette de Valois choreographed the first version of the work in 1931 but a few months later the American Ted Shawn created a modern dance version in Lewisohn Stadium.

The Time critic noted ‘Composer Williams’ (sic) score was politely modern, [but] lacked movement’. It is true it is not really dance music (there is only one other dance version by Sir Robert Cohan in 1977, but we should be thankful it has successfully transferred to the concert hall where it works magnificently. 

Review by Paul RW Jackson