This is a valuable collection, much of it core Boult repertoire,
though it contains two items, the two sets of Arnold dances and
, that he did not otherwise record.
If for no other reason than that, this disc will be attractive
to admirers of Sir Adrian.
Most of the performances are very good, though I was a bit disappointed
with the Walton. It sounds a bit matter-of-fact and lacking the
sultry sensuousness that the music requires. Mind you, the recording
doesn’t help. It’s a touch strident and unsubtle.
In a note on the Pristine website Andrew Rose says that even
though all the recordings were made at the same venue and by
the same technical team the sound quality varied. Pragmatically,
he took the results of the November 1954 sessions, which offered
the best sound, and equalised the others to match it as closely
as possible. This seems to me a sensible approach and generally
it’s worked well but the Walton is the least successful.
Happily, the Arnold dances fared much better both interpretatively
and in terms of the sound quality. Boult’s is not the most
unbuttoned account of these pieces that I’ve heard but
he still does them very effectively. The Elgar miniatures all
come off well. These represent the lighter side of Elgar but
Boult was far too shrewd and sensitive a musician to underestimate
them. These pieces do not play themselves and a successful performance
requires great care, not least in respect of balance and pacing.
Boult’s understated mastery serves them well, especially
the delightful Chanson de matin
, which he does with delightful
The Perfect Fool
ballet music comes off very well. Boult
gives the exciting opening and closing passages their full due
but I especially admire the sensitivity of shading with which
he invests the subtle central section.
is one of the highlights of the collection. The
opening pages are some of the most majestic in all English music
and Boult controls the music beautifully. Later on, the glorious
climax (track 9, from 10:15) is handled expertly. The recording
does struggle to contain some of Bax’s most potent passages
but the sound is perfectly acceptable, given its age and an excellent
amount of detail is reported, which is a tribute not just to
the restorative skills of Andrew Rose but to the engineering
of the great Kenneth Wilkinson - all these recordings were engineered
by Wilkinson for Decca and the producer was James Walker. Tintagel
one English work where I think Boult’s noble approach,
though extremely satisfying, yields to Barbirolli’s red-blooded
style. Nonetheless, this Boult performance is not to be underestimated.
Butterworth’s wonderful A Shropshire Lad
with great understanding and maturity by Boult. He judges the
whole piece beautifully and paces it perfectly. For Boult at
his peerless best in this piece, his Lyrita recording from the
1970s (see review
is essential listening but this earlier account is also extremely
All these recordings were made during Boult’s period as
Principal Conductor of the London Philharmonic (1950-1957) and
it shows their partnership to excellent advantage. The playing
is very good and responsive. It’s notable how productive
these recording sessions were, with the Arnold, Bax, Holst and
Butterworth items all set down in two days in November 1954.
Though some allowances have to be made - usually at climaxes
- for the fact that these recordings are some fifty-five years
old they have come up very well and Andrew Rose has done his
usual excellent and musical job on them. It’s pleasing
that these examples of one of Britain’s finest conductors
in his prime have been restored to the catalogue.