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The "Symphony No. 7," or "Sinfonia Antartica," of Ralph Vaughan Williams (the odd-looking spelling is Italian) had its origins in the composer's 1948 score for the film Scott of the Antarctic, and both scores use orchestral instruments to conjure up sounds of freezing winds and the like. The symphony isn't one of Vaughan Williams' most played, but it comes to life in this historical reissue, where it's joined with other archival recordings pertaining to the two British Antarctic expeditions -- one failed, one successful -- that were launched around the time of Norwegian Roald Amundsen's conquest of the pole in 1911 and 1912. "Scott of the Antarctic" was Robert Falcon Scott, who reached the pole shortly after Amundsen but froze to death with his men on the return trek. His reputation since then has furnished a splendid example of historical ups and downs. Scott's diary was discovered by searchers and became a celebrated tale back home, adapted into stories and a popular song, "'Tis a Story That Shall Live Forever." Two recordings of the song, both made in 1913, are included here. The Vaughan Williams symphony and the song both include the grim finale of Scott's diary: "We took risks, we knew we took them; things have come out against us, and therefore we have no cause for complaint…." This brings home the sense of familiarity that the symphony would have had at its 1953 premiere. The recording of the symphony was made that year by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Adrian Boult, a fact nowhere in the packaging except for the text of the booklet notes. The "Scott of the Antarctic" excerpts were recorded in 1948 by the Philharmonia Orchestra, whose conductor is not named. Despite this dearth of information, both recordings are nicely remastered. Even rarer than the two songs are two spoken-word recordings by Shackleton -- one from a 78 and one from a cylinder -- containing his own descriptions of his often hair-raising exploits. Anyone who has ever browsed through a 78 catalog knows how popular such recordings were in a time 100 years before the 24-hour news cycle, but they have been poorly served by historical reissue firms. To have them here, in an unusual and well thought-out context, is worth the price of admission, and the reputation of the "Sinfonia Antartica" also gets a bit of a boost from this release.
Performance CreditsJohn Gielgud Recitation
London Philharmonic Orchestra Performing Ensemble
Adrian Boult Conductor
Robert Carr Vocals
Stanley Kirkby Baritone (Vocal)
Margaret Ritchie Soprano (Vocal)
Philharmonia Orchestra Performing Ensemble
Ernest Shackleton Spoken Word
Technical CreditsRalph Vaughan Williams Composer
Spoken Word Composer
AKA O'Hogan, AKA Horatio Nicholls) Lawrence Wright (AKA Williams Composer
James Hayward Liner Notes
Paul Pelham Composer