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CD: Crotchet


Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Symphony No. 2 in E flat major Op.63 [52:45]
Overture: In the South (Alassio) Op.50 [19:43]
Sospiri, Op.70 [4:11]
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
rec. Corn Exchange, Bedford 23 March 1944 (In the South); Great Hall of Bedford School, 3-4, 25 August, 10 October 1944 (Symphony); EMI Studio No.1, Abbey Road 24 March 1937 (Sospiri)
BEULAH 5PD15 [76:37]
Experience Classicsonline

Boult’s memorable wartime Elgar Second has already appeared on a previous release from Beulah; some reviewers at the time, while praising the performance, spoke adversely of the relatively high level of surface noise. I am not sure if this re-release incorporates a re-mastering, but to my ears the noise is far from distracting. The recording is given a warm, full-bodied transfer, with a good sense of spatial perspective, a vast improvement on the etiolated 1980s HMV Treasury transfer.
Boult set down five recordings of the work. Three of these were with the LPO (1956, 1968 and 1976) and another with the Scottish National Orchestra in 1963. This wartime version with his own BBC orchestra was his first, and the first of the symphony since the composer’s own, made in 1927. Until its reissue on LP and then CD some twenty years ago its virtues had seemingly been forgotten; a pity, for it is inspired throughout. Listen to Boult and the BBC Symphony in the opening movement, where a purposeful opening tempo is maintained throughout, alternating with passages of remarkable rubato and flexibility. This was obviously a piece that Boult and his forces had well under their collective skins. His subsequent recordings, for all their respective merits and improved sound, did not always recapture the pioneering spirit of this first traversal. The central, dark passage in the development is made to sound particularly sinister here, before the music sweeps along to its glorious recapitulation.
Boult paces the elegiac Larghetto admirably, balancing to perfection the passionate and stoical elements in the music. The recording conveys Elgar’s carefully graded dynamics, so carefully realised in this performance, to register to moving effect. The peroration of the movement is glorious, and none the less so for being hard-won. The Scherzo in Boult’s hands becomes something of a powerhouse; Andrew Keener speaks in his booklet notes of the performance’s “anger” and one can see what he means. The central “malign influence” passage is reminiscent of Holst’s Mars in its insistent drumming; Boult and the orchestra push the recording technology to the very limit, from which it emerges with flying colours.
In the Finale, where Elgar’s argument can sound diffuse in lesser hands, Boult’s grip on the structure never loses its concentration. We move from the purposeful opening statement through Elgar’s sequential development passages - which can sometimes outstay their welcome - before the music settles back for the home run, as it were. Here Boult draws the musical threads together to deeply satisfying effect, and the performance ends on a note of resolution.
Filling the disc on this occasion is Boult’s fine, elegiac 1937 recording of Elgar’s Sospiri and a new addition to the Boult discography, a 1944 Bedford BBC Studio production of In the South. The latter has remarkable fire, drive and passion and a sound quality that is astonishing given the circumstances. Don’t miss it!
Those who love the symphony may already be familiar with this wonderful performance. If you are new to Elgar, or to Boult, I would urge you to listen to this. Boult and the BBC Symphony project Elgar’s “passionate pilgrimage of the soul” with consistent inspiration. Unforgettable.
Ewan McCormick

see also review by Christopher Howell
(as part of box set 14PD15)


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