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Twentieth Century Classics: Volume 4
Alan RAWSTHORNE (1905-1971)
Street Corner – Overture [5:28]
Pro Arte Orchestra/Alan Rawsthorne – rec. 1958. ADD/stereo
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Job – a masque for dancing (1930) [45:37]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult – rec. 1954. ADD/mono
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Violin Concerto [29:40]
David Oistrakh (violin); London Symphony Orchestra/Paul Hindemith – rec. 1962. ADD/stereo
BEULAH 4PDR20 [80:47]

Two classic recordings are enshrined here in very good transfers, VW’s Job and the Hindemith concerto, with the opening Rawsthorne a very enjoyable appetiser. When Sir Adrian Boult’s EMI recording of Job was available on a single CD that was all that was included. The same applies to the original EMI Eminence release of the Vernon Handley recording. The only problem with the generous playing time of the Beulah is that it’s too long to burn to a CDR; if that’s what you prefer you would have to leave out the overture.

The Rawsthorne makes a fine overture to what is to come and it’s especially welcome because there are only two other recordings of this once very popular work: a vintage Pearl conducted by Constant Lambert and Sir John Pritchard with the LPO in an all-Rawsthorne collection (Lyrita – reviewreviewreview). The (Pye) recording has come up well.

Those wishing to explore Rawsthorne’s music further might well begin with that Lyrita album, or with his Cello Concerto, Oboe Concerto and Symphonic Studies on Naxos 8.554763 – 5-star review. Download or stream in lossless sound, with pdf booklet, from classicsonline.com.

If you just want his First Piano Concerto from the Lyrita album, played by Malcolm Binns with the LSO and Nicholas Braithwaite, it’s available as part of a super-budget 4-CD set of British Piano Concertos (SRCD.2346 – reviewreviewDL News 2014/15). Both Piano Concertos and the Double Concerto come at lower mid price on Chandos CHAN10339X, well performed by Geoffrey Tozer with the LPO and Mathias Bamert – review – now download only, from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless with pdf booklet). His Film Music is available on Chandos CHAN9749 – review– also as part of a USB collection of film music reviewed in DL News 2015/5.

The two Rawsthorne Violin Concertos and the overture Cortèges come on another recommendable album, this time from Naxos in performances by Rebecca Hirsch with the BBCSO and Lionel Friend (8.554240). John Belcher had some reservations about the performance and recording – review – which have not been universally shared: the album even scored four stars in the last complete Penguin Guide. Stuck with just £2.52 in my emusic account with the end of the month approaching, I decided to risk their variable bit-rate download when I could have got the album free in better sound from a number of sites. Though ‘variable’ here means an average bit-rate of only 197kb/s, the sound is not at all bad and the performances are very good, so that’s a decent bargain at the price for subscribers. Better quality, however, is available from classicsonline.com for not much more – and you get the booklet, which emusic don’t offer.

The plum of the Beulah collection is Sir Adrian Boult’s Decca mono recording of Job. Like his recordings of the VW symphonies, it wasn’t entirely superseded by his stereo remake for EMI and I don’t think it has ever been out of the catalogue in one form or another. There’s a transfer on the Decca Eloquence label, coupled with the suite from The Wasps, and it’s also available in a 53-CD box set, but I imagine that most potential purchasers would prefer the Hindemith coupling on Beulah to The Wasps or the cumbersome box in which too many fine recordings are encumbered nowadays. The EMI recording is also tied up in large boxes, but this time it’s all VW and only (?) 13 CDs or 30 CDs. Vernon Handley’s Boult-inspired recording is also tied up in a 7-CD set but that’s a Classics for Pleasure set of the VW symphonies, etc., very fine performances at budget price (5757602 – review of single reissue, no longer available).

I very much like that Handley recording and Boult’s stereo recording for Everest should not be overlooked. It’s intermittently in and out of the catalogue: currently available only as a download. There’s also a great deal going for the Naxos recording on which the English Northern Philharmonia are conducted by David Lloyd-Jones and the Warner Apex with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Sir Andrew Davis, both at budget price, with the Apex generously coupled with Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast. (Also in a multi-CD set – review). Yet even in a very competitive market the mono Boult recording remains very special, capturing the ambiance of the music in a way which leaves it still as my benchmark.

You wouldn’t mistake the recording for one of recent provenance but the transfer is very good indeed. I listened to the Eloquence transfer, made from the master tapes, and could hear very little significant difference between it and the Beulah.

The Hindemith is also a classic recording which I’m very pleased to see reissued. The 2-CD Decca Critics’ Choice reissue is now available only as a Presto special or to download, and the single disc with the Mathis der Maler Symphony and the Symphonic Metamorphoses is also download only (Decca Enterprise, or as one of the most desirable of the first batch of Decca Eloquence releases). The 2-CD set comes with a wonderful recording of the Bruch Scottish Fantasia and the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante, K364, but there are other very fine recordings of those*, so the Beulah release is very welcome.

It remains a tough and uncompromising piece of music even today but the Oistrakh recording, with the composer at the helm of the LSO, retains first place in my estimation. The transfer is very good, with very little to choose between it and the Eloquence CD which I own. It’s good enough, indeed, to remind us of the vast improvement that the Decca engineers had travelled in less than ten years since the VW. All the Beulah transfers are so well done that I recommend downloading from Qobuz in lossless sound for the same price as mp3 from Amazon and iTunes.

There are no notes with Beulah reissues. Perhaps there should be – a thought for the future – but the interesting covers are often compensation: in this case a scene in South Croydon in the 1960s with roads much emptier than you might expect to find in South London today.

After a day’s listening on one system in the study I usually choose one recording to relax and listen to in the lounge on a different set-up in the evening. I think you can guess which one I chose on the day that I downloaded 4PDR20. If I had been putting together a programme of representative twentieth century music, I might have emulated the character in the joke - ‘If I were going there I wouldn’t start from here’ - but I’m very glad that I hitched a ride.

As I was closing this review I received notice that Beulah would be adding a ninth volume to their Proms 2016 series: Mozart Piano Concerto No.21 from Annie Fischer and Wolfgang Sawallisch with the Philharmonia (from Columbia) and Bruckner’s Symphony No.3 from the VPO and Knappertsbusch (from Decca), mirroring the Prom due for September 7th.

* The Linn hi-res transfer of Kyung-Wha Chung’s Decca recording – DL News May 2012/2 – is no longer available but it remains available on CD at budget price with the Violin Concerto No.1 and, at mid price, with the addition of the Mendelssohn concerto – and it’s still my top recommendation.

Brian Wilson



 

 




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