VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Symphony  No. 7 ("Sinfonia antartica").*  Symphony No. 8 in D minor.
Lynda Russell, soprano;* Waynflete Singers;*  Bournemouth Symphony Orch/Kees Bakels, cond.

Naxos 8.550737. (B) (DDD)  TT: 71:27

Vaughan Williams fashioned the Sinfonia antartica from his incidental music to the film Scott of the Antarctic; its five movements don't conform to standard structural models, but the music progresses according to its own inexorable, satisfying logic, and can be most effective in the right hands.  Where Haitink on EMI performs it for abstract, "symphonic" drama and power, Kees Bakels emphasizes the score's vivid, pictorial qualities. The opening movement paints cold, sweeping, majestic vistas, building to an affirmative, brass-laden climax. The central "Landscape" movement evokes mystery and awe; if some of the ostinato rhythms here and in the "Intermezzo" suggest a suspense film, this is hardly inappropriate!  The "Epilogue's" jagged march opening wavers between triumph and peril, with the severe, forbidding elements dominating the close.

The non-programmatic Eighth Symphony is cast in the conventional four movements, but here, too, the composer experiments with form. The opening movement, for example, is a set of Variazioni senza Tema ("variations without a theme"); the middle movements, a Scherzo and a Cavatina, are scored for winds alone and strings alone respectively. It is a work of striking variety, vitality, and color, with reposeful passages balancing others of driving energy.

The Bournemouth players have as good a feel for this music as any of the London orchestras does, and they've never sounded better. Brasses are round and full; strings fill out their phrases with a nice sheen (particularly in the Seventh's "Intermezzo"); and the lustrous clarinet deserves particular praise among the woodwinds. The climaxes sound a touch overbright, but otherwise the recording is colorful and detailed; in the Seventh, not only is the organ's big "Landscape" solo encompassed with ease, but the distinctive textures of organ with strings and then trumpet come across vividly.

S.F.V. (Oct. 2000)