Vaughan Williams: Job, A Masque for Dancing. The Lark Ascending.
English Northern Philharmonia/David Lloyd-Jones, cond.
Naxos 8.553955 (B) (DDD) TT: 61:08  

Job is surely the most neglected of "Rafe" Vaughan Williams' greatest works, in that regard equaled only by the Fifth Symphony (whose delicate dynamics are hellishly difficult for the strings to play with a needfully rich tone). It was composed over a period of three years—1927-30—to a scenario inspired by William Blake's watercolors, and introduced at the 1930 Norwich Festival as a concert work by the composer. The first staged version appeared in London the following July, with Constant Lambert conducting (whose friend, Peter Warlock, dismissed VW's Pastoral Symphony as "cow looking over fence" music), and Ninette de Valois' choreography—she later on the founding-mother of Sadler's Wells. The Lark is an earlier work—Warlock might have called it "bird nesting in tree" music—composed for violin and orchestra in 1914 but revised in 1920. (Vaughan Williams was addicted to "revisionism" well into his fifties; one could even call him the British Bruckner, or Midlands Mahler.)

So much for background. Sir Adrian Boult was devoted to Job, and recorded it at least three times. The first was the best, with the original BBC Symphony Orchestra on HMV red-label 78s; digitally remastered, this can be heard on a pricey Dutton CD. Of two more with the London Phil, a Decca/London LP was mono only, but Everest preserved them later on in stereo, now remastered on a Vanguard CD. Sorry to say, it is neither cleanly played nor as energized as the others were. The best Job there's ever been is Vernon Handley's of 1983, blazingly recorded with a reconstituted London Phil on an EMI Eminence CD (EMX 9506, if you can find it in a cutout bin). I don't know his version with the BBC Northern Symphony in IMP's "BBC Radio Classics" series, but have an uneasy feeling about the orchestra and studio-sound. Look for the Eminence, although there's nothing else on it, and EMI, sneaky buggers, don't list a total timing (it's 48:21). Write them to reissue it if you either care for the music or are curious how glowing this music can sound.

I wish one could say that Naxos' entry from Leeds was even a stopgap, but the Opera North orchestra is understaffed for music of such Biblical pulchritude. The sound, except for a lovely outburst in Section III, offers extremes of loudness and softness that confound a comfortable level-setting. The veteran Lloyd-Jones, who's been conducting for almost 40 years, has too little muscle for the glories and dolors, of Job which simply dribbles away after minutes on end of navel-contemplation. The Lark Ascending fares better but is no prize, and you have to search all the way to small type on the back cover for the violinist's name, in parenthesis yet: he is David Greed, perhaps the Leeds players' concertmaster. A long list of violinists in Schwanns / Opuses over the years have played this innocuous music more engagingly.

R.D.