Job (1930) is one of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s 24-carat masterpieces, and in recorded terms, I have no doubt that Sir Adrian Boult’s fourth and final version (with the LSO, for EMI) is definitive. Andrew Davis, vastly experienced as a conductor of this composer, is every bit as idiomatic as the score’s dedicatee and finds the Bergen Philharmonic in virtuoso and sensitive form. From pastoral and hymnal beauty through heart-rending eloquence to Satan’s maniacal music via transcendent eruptions to a return-journey ‘Epilogue’ of rapt tenderness, this is music that gets under the skin and haunts the listener long afterwards. If Boult remains the master, then I would not want to be without Davis’s seasoned and appreciative approach, and Alexander Kagan’s violin contribution is very special.
As a Job postscript, it seems a shame that André Previn didn’t record it when he was working through Vaughan Williams’s Nine Symphonies for RCA, and that another ‘niner’ (also RCA), Leonard Slatkin, has so far not recorded Job (he does do it though, including with the New York Philharmonic); and, maybe, Sakari Oramo will document A Masque for Dancing: his Proms 2014 account with the BBCSO was terrific.
Vaughan Williams’s Ninth Symphony (1957) was underestimated at its premiere, and possibly remains so; yet it is a summation of his symphonic output and also shows the composer in his mid-eighties still exploring, not least in his use of a flugelhorn and a trio of saxophones. The Ninth has its mystical aspects, offset by music of enormous verve. If the first movement, with its St Matthew Passion connections, suggests anxiety in anticipating the afterlife (Vaughan Williams would die the following year), it is also powerfully passionate and pastorally bittersweet in equal measure. The second movement, with contemplative flugelhorn and militaristic rhythms, and perhaps linked to a literary source, Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles, continues the opposites to be found in this music, which overall is brimful of atmosphere and suggestion. Then the Scherzo bursts with life, those saxophones to the fore ... and the Finale (the longest and most involved movement) steals in attacca, rather sadly at first but soon finding radiance, the music striving for a cathartic climax, a long view that when it is delivered is devastating (including here, as I understand it, with the cymbal clashes that are in the manuscript but not the published score; Slatkin does similarly), the wake of which is an enigmatic if sax-luminous landscape.
Andrew Davis conducts an inspired performance, superbly recorded, as is Job, the credit for the Domkirken no doubt acknowledging the organ that Job requires and which is specified in detail in the booklet. Another Bergen/Davis Vaughan Williams recording was made recently, which will further help Chandos complete the Symphony Cycle that the late Richard Hickox was unable to finish.