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Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Symphony No. 3 in D major Polish Op.29 [42:07]
Suite No. 3 in G major Op.55 [37:40]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
Paris Conservatoire Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
rec. Kingsway Hall, London 2-3 February and 11-12 November 1956 (Symphony); Paris, 6-9 June 1955 (Suite)
BEULAH 4PD12 [79:54]
Experience Classicsonline

Sir Adrian Boult conducted the music of Tchaikovsky throughout his career; his commercial discography of the Russian master’s music is extensive, including three of the symphonies, the piano and violin concertos, overtures, and ballet music, some of them in more than one version. This reissue from Beulah makes available again two recordings from the 1950s which have not been available since the days of Decca Eclipse LPs, and which also incorporate some contemporary recording technology.

Marketed as “binaural”, these recordings represented an attempt by engineers to create a sense of spatial definition using 3 directional microphones. As reproduced here there is some sense of perspective; the sound-stage is wider than that offered by contemporary mono recordings but lacks the spread of true stereo. It’s also a rather opaque, bottom-heavy sound and this contributes to the impression of heaviness in the actual performances themselves. The orchestra is not reproduced with ideal clarity although Boult’s trademark divided violins come across clearly.

In the Third Symphony Boult sets a steady pace in most of the five movements, and although he brings an appealing elegance to the central Andante elegiaco, and an appealing warmth to the expressive central cantilena for strings, it’s still a rather staid approach. In the Finale Boult attempts to liven things up but this remains a buttoned-up approach to a symphony that benefits from considerably more brio.

The Third Suite is marginally better; in addition to this Paris recording Boult made a memorable version with the LPO late in his career in considerably better sound. Boult has written of the bizarre scenario whereby “an elderly British conductor” was despatched to Paris to record Russian music with a French orchestra. The booklet suggests that this was done in an attempt to keep the developing recording technology a secret. Be that as it may, his performance of the Suite has rather more elan than that of the symphony, although it is not the equal of his 1974 recording.

Both performances are admirably paced and, as we would expect, musically done. If I am a bit lukewarm about them it is because they lack the last ounce of panache to make them absolutely memorable. Boult is always interesting to hear, but on the evidence of the results here his imagination does not seem to have been fired by these sessions, in a way that it was, for example, in his marvellous contemporary Rachmaninov Second.

Ewan McCormick


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