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CD or Download: Pristine Classical

Ernest John MOERAN (1894-1950)
Symphony in G minor (1937) [43:25]
The Hallé Orchestra/Leslie Heward
rec. under the auspices of the British Council, Manchester, England, 26-27 November, 1 December 1942, partially in the presence of the composer.
Issued in January 1943 as HMV 78s C.3319-3324 and C.7566-7571
Matrix numbers 2ER641-51, takes 2, 1, 2, 1, 2, 2, 2, 1, 1, 2, 1
Transfer and XR remastering by Andrew Rose at Pristine Audio, July 2009
Experience Classicsonline

Notwithstanding the well integrated Tapiola "borrowings" in the finale the Moeran Symphony is an endlessly fascinating work. It has a cogent emotional trajectory and superb impact.

Heward adopts an inexorable pulse for the opening ostinato. The Hallé’s springy exuberance and poetry is accentuated by that taut rhythmic foundation. Andrew Rose knows every wrinkle, tick and bristle of these 78s having made at least three issued transfers each designed to improve on the others (see review). He is unafraid of the mono 78 ‘sizzle’ and has left it in place; good thing too as this CD does not compromise the upper string merits of the original. One thing Rose can do nothing about is the ripsaw edge to the strings at their upper limit as at 6.00 and 11:09 in the finale. For say 97% of the time the strings are rendered with some suggestion of fullness allowing for wartime vintage. The performance inevitably lacks the ripeness and lush orchard-green tone of Boult's classic Lyrita recording (SRCD.247). In Boult, who takes more than a minute longer than Heward overall, the strings have a luxurious weight. The whoop of the New Philharmonia horns can be heard to glorious effect in the pounding finale of the first movement. Heward's recording is historic and this cannot help but show as in the tinny percussion at 9:15 in the first movement.

The Heward 78s represented the work's first, and for many years only, recording until Dilkes’ fine EMI version in 1972 (see review). This was followed fairly quickly by Boult on Lyrita circa 1975 (see review), Handley on Chandos in the 1980s (see review) and in this decade by David Lloyd-Jones on Naxos (see review). In that sense this Pristine disc or download has documentary value as well as intrinsic musical merit.

For me the pulse in the third movement is too fast (the magical interlude at 3.30 goes for nothing) and much the same applies to Boult and Handley and for that matter Sinaisky in his otherwise fantastic and fiery Golovanov-style performance during the BBC Proms in July 2009. Heward's way with dynamics is the way of delightfully precise differentiation - a constant joy. As an example take 9.00 in the finale where the horns caw confidingly and in contrast to the storm that bookends that episode.

This is a very pleasing transfer of one of the gramophone's monuments to British music and one that has been part of my musical landscape since 1972; a heritage track. It is here made all the more artistically resonant by the composer's presence during some of the sessions even if alcohol was beginning to make him something of a volatile quantity.

There was a time when I thought I would never hear the Symphony live. This was finally put right when I attended a concert by that overlooked orchestral magician John Longstaff with the Sheffield Symphony Orchestra in the mid-2000s. Why are conductors of his calibre still overlooked despite the passing of Hickox and Handley? Longstaff does not need a dearth of other talent to stand out in the crowd.

By the way, while Chandos already have an exceptional Moeran Symphony in Handley's version with the Ulster Orchestra I do very much hope that Sinaisky's firebrand reading will be recorded by them even if they issue the Prom performance itself. In an ideal world this should be coupled with a speculative reconstruction of the Second Symphony the fragments of which were once the subject of a fascinating article by Roderick McNeill.  If it's good enough for Elgar why not Moeran? I am curious to hear those sketches and fragments in some form or another.

No notes provided with the disc but substantial and informative notes can be read at the Pristine website. Rather like Walter’s Vienna Mahler 9 or Beecham’s RFH Sibelius 2 this is both an historic document and more. It remains a necessary supplement to your choice of the modern recordings; my preference from which is the Boult-Lyrita disc.

Rob Barnett

Comment recieved from Jeffrey Davis

I greatly enjoyed Rob Barnett's review of this great performance. I too was at Sinaisky's 'Golovanov like' performance at the Proms this year and that is the perfect description of the performance. I too thought that I would never hear the work live (as was my belief about the 1913 version of Vaughan Williams's London symphony, Miaskovsky's 21st Symphony, Gliere's epic Third Symphony and John Fould's 'A World Requiem' - all of which I have heard live in London in recent years. Next year it is to be Miaskovsky's 6th Symphony in London.

The Moeran Symphony has also been on my musical landscape since 1972 when I picked up the Dilkes LP - I have not looked back since, as far as that work is concerned. I too would love to hear a reconstruction of Moeran's Second Symphony and also a recording of Cyril Rootham's Second Symphony, completed shortly before his death. My enjoyment would be complete were Dutton to release Stanley Bate's Third symphony - his Viola Concerto was magnificent. Thanks Rob.



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