Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:

SCHUBERT Symphony No. 9 Great (1825-8) [45.47]
WAGNER Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (1868) [9.03]
MENDELSSOHN Hebrides Overture (1830) [8.51]
rec Studio 1, Abbey Rd, London 17 Dec 1934; 6 Apr 1933; 20 Oct 1933 Mono
BEULAH 3PD12 [63.41]

With a grit and resolve of a true pioneer Beulah continue to delve into the deeper recesses of the 78 catalogue. They are an admirable company and their catalogue shows the fine judgement of Barry C Coward and his frequent collaborator, the knowledgeable Alan Sanders.

This Boult collection (not Beulah's first) takes us to the early (not quite the earliest) years of the BBC Symphony. The recordings leave no room for doubt that Boult's orchestra was in the virtuoso league. When standards of orchestral playing in London were pretty poor the BBCSO must have shone like a beacon. There is no shred of provincialism in their playing. Boult drives the orchestra. In fact what comes across to me is the sense of rod-hard control Boult exerted. Ensemble is spot on. It is as if a single great instrument is playing and this long before days of patching and edits. While the orchestra were often called on to play too much with not enough rehearsal time this is not an issue in any of these recordings. It is no wonder that the 1930s saw Toscanini, Koussevitsky, Fritz Busch and Bruno Walter at the helm for recordings and concerts.

Boult has, not exactly surprisingly given the shape of his latter years' catalogue, been categorised as a British music specialist. In fact he was much broader than that as his Tchaikovsky Suite No 3, Brahms cycle and Wagner made clear in the 1960s and 1970s. His technique was forged under the shade of Nikisch, Steinbach and Richter - a tradition tracing back to the composers' own generation. He heard Schubert 9 first in 1905 under Henry Wood, experienced performances and rehearsals of the work by Nikisch (1912-13) but the deepest impact came with hearing rehearsals and performances by directed by Casals with his own orchestra in Barcelona. Boult in 1934 is often audaciously fast. The orchestra hold onto control firmly by the skin of their teeth: The devil drives so to speak. The precision is wondrous to hear. The other thing that strikes you, and again it is concerned with the conductor's controlling personality, is the attention to dynamic contrasts. Every shading between ppp and ffff is grasped and conveyed. You will find yourself noticing things you have never heard before. There is no scouting around edges; no generalisation; no soft focus. It is as if we were hearing Karajan and the Berlin PO at their jaw-dropping peak. I am not at all sure that Boult is quite as good at the emotional dimension of the music but I do urge you to hear this music as an example of an orchestra caught in full flood and with no sign of ebb-tide. The Wagner and Mendelssohn pieces sport similar character while the latter represents Boult as a gentler soul - more yielding. The trombones in grand march section of the Wagner are delineated with the sharpest of jagged silhouettes.

Technical side: Beulah are a non-interventionist or minimal interventionist company. Major blemishes are either absent from the originals or have been elided with loving care. The intrinsic sound quality is good (for the 1930s), as you might expect, and the rustle of the surfaces is noticeable only as each movement begins.

A very satisfying note in its own right from Alan Sanders.

Boult and HIS orchestra at their high summer. At the time Philadelphia and Berlin must have looked on in insecure wonder.

Rob Barnett

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