reissue of two of Sir Adrian Boult’s most memorable recordings
from his Indian Summer more-or-less completely lives up to expectations.
The Beethoven has – astonishingly - remained unavailable since
the days of LP while the Mozart has had limited circulation
on a Royal Classics release some years ago.
Sound in both these
performances is good, the orchestra well balanced within a believable
acoustic and there is a wide stereo spread which serves to emphasise
Boult’s trademark divided violins.
Boult had recorded
both works previously: the Beethoven for Vanguard in 1956 –
once available on a three-disc compilation of Symphonies 3,
5, 6 and 7 and well worth tracking down – and the Mozart in
his BBC Symphony days in the 1930s. Both works, the Beethoven
especially, were very much part of his repertoire throughout
his career. Indeed he conducted memorable performances of the
Pastoral with the BBC Symphony at the Proms in the early
1970s. On its initial appearance on LP reviews were laudatory,
Boult’s performance being compared very favourably with those
by Karl Böhm and Klemperer.
He launches the
Pastoral at a leisurely pace. In the opening movement
Beethoven uses a static harmonic scheme, often remaining with
particular key centres for pages at a time, but such is the
richness and variety of his imagination, and of Boult’s performance,
that we are scarcely aware of this. The LPO play the myriad
repeated figures - “like leaves on a tree” as the late Robert
Simpson put it - with consistent freshness and attention to
dynamics. This is very familiar music but Boult has the rare
gift of making us feel as though we are hearing it for the first
The slow harmonic
scheme continues in the second movement but Beethoven avoids
any danger of monotony by using fluid instrumental figures which
keep the rhythmic interest alive. This may be a more lush countryside
than we have recently become accustomed to, but it is none the
worse for that. Richard Osborne in his 1978 Gramophone review
apparently felt that Boult was hurrying the pace in this movement,
although I find it hard to detect much evidence of it – to my
mind his tempi are singularly well judged.
The third movement
is well played and there is no shortage of good-humoured liveliness,
particularly from the woodwind emulating the village band, although
it is a rather well behaved group on this occasion! In the storm
Boult conjures up a real sense of power without resorting to
histrionics. The final movement with its return to consonant
harmony sets the seal upon Boult’s memorable performance of
this symphony. There are no clever interpretative points made;
his chosen tempi are unexceptional; the storm scene is even
a wee bit tame. Nevertheless everything seems to come together
in this performance. It’s a Pastoral to treasure.
Symphony is a similarly large-scale reading, again demonstrating
Boult’s emphasis on structural values across the duration of
the piece. All the repeats are observed, and this makes it one
of the longest Jupiters on record. It’s certainly imposing,
and the divided strings are highly effective in Mozart’s antiphonal
passages, but it’s perhaps worn less well as an interpretation
than the Pastoral. Even in 1974 this was anachronistic
Mozart. Nevertheless the conductor’s authority is for the most
part pretty convincing. In the opening movement his pace is
perhaps a notch or two under the allegro vivace marking,
but this serves to underline the grandeur of the music. It’s
this grandeur that Boult seems to want to emphasise throughout
the symphony, as if stressing the work’s place as a precursor
to later nineteenth century symphonic masterpieces.
The andante cantabile
is unhurried and elegant, perhaps a little staid; a greater
sense of forward movement would have helped. This is more in
evidence in the Menuetto and Trio, but it is in the Finale that
Boult really comes into his own, as he masterfully draws together
Mozart’s contrapuntal threads to create a glorious peroration.
Here Boult sounds thoroughly engaged with the music in a way
that perhaps earlier in the symphony he did not.
Two memorable performances,
then; the Beethoven particularly so. Boult fans will need no
urging from me to add these to their shelves. Now how about
his Mozart concertos with Previn, coupled with the 1974 Haffner?