This is touted as a CD premiere appearance but it’s not
so. There was a Nixa release, and all of Boult’s Sibelius
recordings of the time have been released on Omega Classics.
These 1956 recordings reveal Boult’s strengths in this
repertoire. He is architecturally sagacious and reaches climaxes
with formidable intelligence and imagination. He’s neither
rash nor rhythmically slack, preferring - in the main - quite
a taut ride throughout. It is notable that he didn’t record
a Sibelius Symphony, though he did set down 78 recordings of The
and Nightride and Sunrise
back in the 1930s
with his BBC orchestra. There were plenty of British Sibelius
conductors about at the time - the short-lived Leslie Heward,
Basil Cameron, Anthony Collins, Beecham, Barbirolli and Sargent
amongst them - so Boult got squeezed. But surely some example
of his way with Sibelius symphonic repertoire has survived. A
quick look at Michael Kennedy’s biography shows that Boult
conducted the Second Symphony in Graz in 1965. It was a work
he’d first worked on in 1937, spurred on by a visit by
Toscanini. Let’s hope the BBC can provide something.
This selection then shows his brisk but not brusque strengths.
He’s quite businesslike when it comes to Finlandia.
percussion is rather distant here, and the tempo makes Barbirolli
sound like Knappertsbusch. Tapiola
receives a fine, authoritative
reading but better is The Oceanides
where, as with
his 78, he explores the atmsopherics of the piece illuminated
by an acute structural grading. When it comes to Nightride
we find him in quasi-Toscanini mode. It’s
a brilliantly forward-moving conception, though Anthony Collins
took it just as fast in his contemporaneous Decca recording.
There’s real brass nobility as the piece draws to an end.
The sense of music moving forward with unanswerable logic was
a Boult speciality during his leaner youthful and mid-point years.
And this is especially true of Pohjola's Daughter
receives a whipped-up drama of a performance, full of brooding
interjections and sonorities.
So, Boult stands revealed as a fine exponent of the tone poems.
The recordings themselves sound as good, I suspect, as they are
going to at the moment. But you will still have to accept some
rather papery sonics and awry balances, and sometimes orchestral
ensemble discipline is lacking the ultimate distinction.
And a further perspective from Rob Barnett:
These recordings first saw the light of day in the year of Sibelius’s
death. Sibelius had died at the age of 92 on 20 September 1957
at Ainola, the family home, near Lake Tuusula, Järvenpää.
These recordings came out on a pair of Nixa 12" LPs. Their
impact was however lessened by the fact that the arc of Sibelius’s
popularity was on a downward curve at the time only to begin
recovery in the mid-late 1960s. Those long-players were: Volume
1: Legends and Sagas
: En Saga
; Swan of Tuonela
; Pohjola’s Daughter
; The Bard
and Volume 2: Patriotic and Nature Pieces
; The Tempest
(NCL16024). The performers were listed on the LP sleeves, no
doubt for contractual reasons, as “Philharmonic Promenade
Orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Boult”. The recordings
also put in an appearance on Austrian Amadeo AVRS 6067. They
resurfaced in the late 1980s on a couple of Vanguard
though the silences between tracks were lamentably
Boult was not new to Sibelius having been enlisted by the Sibelius
Society to fill in around Kajanus, Schneevoight and Beecham.
In this capacity he had recorded two of the tone poems with the
BBCSO during his 1930s heyday with that orchestra. They were The
on DB2797 [7:54] and Nightride and Sunrise
DB2795-6 [13:22]. These 78s were made for HMV at their Abbey
Road No. 1 Studio on 23 January 1936 and are now available on
Dutton Vocalion CDBP 9771. Some twenty years later when the Nixa
recordings were made Boult’s Sibelius had slowed somewhat,
as can be seen above.
is grim and but afflicted with
a heavy languor. In this sense he is no match for Barbirolli’s
late 1960s EMI version - lax symphonies but stirring tone poems
- or Horst Stein’s magnificent 1970s account on Decca.
Oddly enough the much-underrated Stein avoided the symphonies
but made a glorious series of tone poem recordings including
a remarkable En Saga
and a hardly less luminous Pohjola’s
. Nightride and Sunrise
is fast driven - much
in the same mould as Paavo Järvi’s more recent version.
You keep wondering if this is going to turn into a train-wreck
but the orchestra holds as steady as Beecham’s fury-whipped
RPO for the classic Lemminkainen’s Return
the end that great burst of energy seems to dissipate and a more
broadly relaxed air pervades the music consistent with the horizon-filling
sunrise. The Oceanides
here are portayed as Mediterranean
nymphs rather than Nordic sea-spirits - just as Sibelius intended. Pohjola's
is built at first very rigidly but then comes a
sense of release (at 2.30). Its central section is detrimentally
broad. The action is whipped at the close and there is a coal
black edge to brass barks. I notice a tape splice at c 8.25.
Otherwise this is full of finely judged and utterly masculine
touches. Boult’s Tapiola
is grave, impetuous and
intemperate. The Tempest
prelude is especially impressive
(for a while it served as a filler to one of Boult's Pye LPs
of The Planets
) drawing obvious parallels with Tapiola
While this set is important for Sibelians the mono sound is bound
to be a disincentive to some. The sound, intrinsically, is not
as solid and vivid as the mono set of symphonies
a selection of tone
- originally Decca).
I hope that there will be a volume 2 from SOMM. If not I could
have lived without Finlandia
and even the Prelude if they
had also included En Saga
and The Bard
At least one little regarded aspect of Boult's character seems
to come over: Boult the irascible martinet. Sibelians need to