Music: Sound of the Antarctic

For most composers, growing old means growing mellower. But for England's Ralph Vaughan Williams, 80, the process is reversed. Last week the Halle Orchestra unveiled his seventh symphony, Sinfonia Antartica, and it proved as bleak as its title. Public and press, long accustomed to warmth in Vaughan Williams, went away with a case of chills.

But the composer knew what he wanted. For five years he had been haunted by a movie, Scott of the Antarctic, for which he did the musical score, and he set out to re-create its frigid atmosphere in a symphony. He used a few of his themes...