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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 6 “Pastoral” [42:07]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No. 41 “Jupiter” [38:46]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
rec. Abbey Road Studios, London, 17 April, 10-15 May 1977 (Beethoven); 23 September, October 1974 (Mozart)
MEDICI MASTERS MM019-2 [80:56]

 


This eagerly-awaited 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 time.

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.

Mozart’s Jupiter 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?

Ewan McCormick

 

 


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