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Anthony Collins (conductor)
Complete Decca Recordings
rec. 1945-1956
ELOQUENCE 4841467 [14 CDs: 892 mins]

Anthony Collins's recordings continue to exert a hold on collectors and this 14-CD box of his complete Decca recordings offers a reassuringly robust and beautifully produced way to get to grips with his legacy. Collins's facial physiognomy was a compound of Sibelius (top half) and Beecham (lower half including the all-important Imperial – or was it Anchor? - beard). This, strangely, is reflected in his compact discography: the famous Sibelius symphonic cycle and other orchestral works and one of the most convincing Delius selections of his time, or indeed any time.

Collins (1893-1963) was a violist, arranger, composer – especially admired for his film scores – and conductor. When he gave up the viola in 1936, he began to embark on a conducting career in England, notably with the orchestra whose viola principal he’d been, the LSO, but shortly before the outbreak of war he emigrated to America where he was soon to become house composer and conductor for RKO. On his return to Britain in 1945 he was contracted to record for Decca.

He had founded the London Mozart Orchestra in 1939 and it’s with this ensemble that he made his first recording, Mozart’s Symphony No 33 in May 1945. This is a stylish, well-balanced performance and hasn’t been reissued since its release on 78s in July 1949. It shows Collins to be a buoyant and perceptive Mozartian, qualities clearly evident in his concerto assignments with the LSO in 1954. The Clarinet Concerto is played by the young Gervase de Peyer, and if you know the famous recording he made with Peter Maag you may not be aware that he made this earlier, and very attractive disc with Collins. The Bassoon Concerto is played by Henri Halaerts, the much-admired Belgian player and I assume it was on his initiative that he plays Jacques Ibert’s first movement cadenza. In Britain, this recording was later eclipsed by Gwydion Brooke’s LP with Beecham.

Friedrich Gulda joined Collins for lively, attractively voiced, eccentricity-free readings of three Mozart concertos and a sparkling, vivacious Strauss Burleske. The Strauss and Concerto No 14 K449 were with the LSO but Nos 25 and 26 were with the New Symphony Orchestra. Gulda made a number of recordings for the label and these include the Sonatas K.310 and K.576, the Rondo in D major K.485 and the Concerto No 17 with Paul Angerer conducting. This leaves the Gulda collector with a dilemma because obviously the Angerer-directed concerto and solo items aren’t in this box but all these Gulda Decca recordings can be found on Eloquence 4803442 as well as the DG box called ‘Friedrich Gulda: The Complete Mozart Tapes, Concertos and Sonatas’.

The third disc is devoted to Peter Katin’s recording of the Mendelssohn Piano Concertos made in stereo in February 1956. Christopher Howell discussed the performances when they appeared on Pristine Audio using their XR technique (review) and I am strongly in agreement with him about the merits of Katin’s performance. Katin was always a technically and expressively gifted performer and his apparently understated manner hardly obscured his virtuosity and musicality. I also agree with Christopher regarding the sometimes scrappy playing of the LSO, which is a subject to which I’ll return later in the review.

The fourth CD contains Gulda’s Burleske and Moura Lympany’s 1952 recording of Rachmaninov’s Third Concerto with the New Symphony, which I reviewed in Eloquence’s own Lympany 7-CD box. It proves a vivid contrast to her compatriot Cyril Smith’s far less lyrical and tautly driven 1946 recording with George Weldon in Birmingham. The two Paganini concertos with Ruggiero Ricci in CD 5 are also contained in the Decca Original Masters box devoted to the violinist (review). CD 6 features a three-composer selection. Bizet’s Carmen Suite and Falla’s El amor brujo suite are both recorded with the London Philharmonic in 1950 whilst Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien and Francesca da Rimini come from 1956 sessions with the LSO and can also be found on Eloquence ELQ480849. The Tchaikovsky recordings were about the last pieces he recorded with the LSO before he left Britain, first for Cape Town and then, finally, America where he was to die. Capriccio Italien is feisty and fine, but Francesca is inconsistent and lacking in the kind of allure that Paul Kletzki later brought to it. The Carmen suite is characterful and brightly rhythmic and shows that the LPO was the superior of the LSO in matters of discipline and string tone. El amor brujo must have appealed to Collins's sense of flair as a filmic colourist but a listen to Stokowski and to Ataúlfo Argenta’s 1951 Parisian full-length recording shows the limitations in Collins's reading.

Disc 7 to 10 survey Collins's greatest claim to discographic fame, the Sibelius cycle and orchestral pieces. My advice here is to ignore the critical flanks that exist on this set; the adulators and detractors, some extreme in their views. The previous reviews on this site are properly judicious; see the review of the Beulah transfers by Patrick C Waller and another review by Rob Barnett. Rob also reviewed the two Eloquence twofers in 2008. The first cycle had been made shortly before by Sixten Ehrling, and a CD edition of this cycle appeared in 1999.

To keep things simple, because my colleagues have written extensive commentaries, I will merely point out that in my view the best of the Collins cycle is, in order, Nos 1, 5 and then 6 with the First both the best played and very best argued symphonically. The weakest are No 3 – very athletic, very fast, exuding a quality of his, which is breezy self-confidence but skating over the music too often - and a strangely disengaged-sounding No 4, strange because this isn’t a quality that applies to Collins's Sibelius in general. No 2 is good, though not in Barbirolli’s class. The other disappointment for me is No 7. In Collins's hands it doesn’t quite hold together and sounds segmental. It was recorded during the period 22-25 February 1954 when he made a number of recordings and I suspect it must have caused multiple problems. Of contemporary performances Nils-Eric Fougstedt and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra show how it should go (review). That said, Collins is much better than the better-known van Kempen’s absurdly fast 1950 recording (review).

The other works all have their fine moments, whether in the Karelia Overture, or in Pohjola’s Daughter. A fine performance of the suite from the incidental music to Pelléas et Mélisande can invariably be judged by its final panel and Collins's The Death of Mélisande is properly intense and moving. He even recorded the often-overlooked Nightride and Sunrise.
CD11 is an all-British affair. The Elgar recordings were expertly reviewed by John Quinn when they appeared on Beulah. I’d only add this. I’m pretty sure Collins must have played the viola in Elgar’s famous recording of Falstaff, made in 1931-32 and that this February 1954 recording was only the third to have been made, after the composer and Boult, and thus before Barbirolli. Collins's tempo for the Dream Interlude is exactly the same as Elgar’s own but in the outer movements the composer is, characteristically, very much faster. I agree too with JQ regarding the Introduction and Allegro, which is splendidly balanced and full of vigorous brilliance. Elgar’s Serenade is delightfully graceful with none of the focused intensity Sargent found in the Larghetto. Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis is also on this disc, as is Greensleeves, in the Ralph Greaves arrangement. The second string orchestra in the Fantasia is well balanced and the respective densities of the two come through clearly. Collins is a sensitive interpreter and gives due weight to the string choirs, as befits an ex-violist. As often with these Deccas, though, there’s a shrillness in the massed upper strings.

I reviewed some of Collins's Delius, all of which is contained in CD 12 and the first two pieces of CD 13, nearly twenty years ago in its ‘Best Of’ incarnation containing Paris, In a Summer Garden, Summer Night on the River, The Walk to the Paradise Garden and A Song of Summer. I also reviewed an unsuccessful Pristine Audio transfer of Brigg Fair, On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring, The Walk to The Paradise Garden and A Song of Summer. On the basis of these recordings it’s perfectly clear that he was an outstanding Delius interpreter, fully in control of the music’s ebbs and flows, evocations and characterisations. The other item on CD13 is one that has seldom been out of the catalogue, the famed Façade with Edith Sitwell and Peter Pears and the English Opera Group Ensemble. I reviewed it in its incarnation in Decca’s The British Music Collection.

The final disc is a pot-pourri. Three British pieces occupied one release: Sullivan’s Overture di Ballo, which offers a stentorian opening and a witty follow up, and then a shepherd diptych of Balfour Gardiner’s well-played but tedious Shepherd Fennel’s Dance and the far lustier Shepherd’s Hey by Grainger. Collins also plays the first set of Rosenkavalier waltzes and the lovely Dream Pantomime from Hänsel und Gretel. Two of his own pastiche pieces are also here – old school charmers - Vanity Fair, one of his best-known pieces, and With Emma to Town.

The background context to the majority of these recordings, certainly the Sibelius ones, should be understood. The LSO had emerged from the war understaffed, overused and in poor shape. Its leader, George Stratton, whose quartet had recorded the chamber works that so solaced the dying Elgar, was furious about the constant travels, lack of rehearsal time and the surfeit of third-rate conductors who sometimes directed so ineptly that he had to lead from the first desk. At one point he made a speech in which he demanded the entire second violin section be reconstituted (by which I take it, he meant re-seated or sacked). The appointment of Josef Krips from 1950 to 1954, which overlaps the earlier part of the Collins-LSO-Decca recordings, led to some establishment of orchestral discipline but as I noted in contrasting the LPO recordings, the LSO was then a long way off the standards that had been established by Walter Legge’s Philharmonia, Beecham’s RPO, Boult’s LPO and the BBC Symphony, then conducted by Malcolm Sargent. It wasn’t until the new blood demanded by Stratton appeared in the later 50s – after Stratton had gone and Collins had left Britain – that the LSO could become the orchestra that Pierre Monteux conducted with such distinction.

The transfers have been very successful. Decca’s FFRR system in the Kingsway Hall produced exceptionally vivid results but was rather too often guilty of emphasising a shrillness to the string tone, which had to be tamed. Otherwise, acoustic depth and separation of choirs was consistently good. Producers included Victor Olof, John Culshaw and James Walker and an almost invariable presence in the balance department was Kenneth Wilkinson. That said, if push comes to shove when it comes to early-to-mid 50s recording quality, I’d take the Mercury team’s work in Chicago over Decca’s in London.

But that is in no way to belittle this outstanding box which brings together the entirety of Collins's discographic legacy. It has been enhanced by Peter Quantrill’s booklet notes and by a beautiful production – reproduced LP covers, appropriate photographic reproductions and much else.

Jonathan Woolf


CD 1
Symphony No 33 in B-flat major, KV 319
Menuetto (from Divertimento in D major, KV 334
London Mozart Orchestra
Clarinet Concerto in A major, KV 622
Bassoon Concerto in B-flat major, KV 191
Gervase de Peyer, clarinet
Henri Helaerts, bassoon
London Symphony Orchestra
Recording Location: Decca Studios, West Hampstead, London, UK, 28–29 May 1945 (Symphony No 33, Divertimento), 13–14 July 1954 (Clarinet Concerto), 9–10 August 1954 (Bassoon Concerto)

CD 2
Piano Concerto No 14 in E-flat major, KV 449
Piano Concerto No 25 in C major, KV 503
Piano Concerto No 26 in D major, KV 537 ‘Coronation’
Friedrich Gulda, piano
London Symphony Orchestra (No 14)
New Symphony Orchestra (Nos 25 and 26)
Recording Locations: Kingsway Hall, London, UK, 15–16 September 1954 (Piano Concerto No 14); Carlton Rooms, Maida Vale, London, UK, 19–21 September 1955 (Piano Concertos Nos 25 and 26)

CD 3
Piano Concerto No 1 in G minor, Op 25
Piano Concerto No 2 in D minor, Op 40
Peter Katin, piano
London Symphony Orchestra
Recording Location: Kingsway Hall, London, UK, 9–10 February 1956

CD 4
Piano Concerto No 3 in D minor, Op 30
Moura Lympany, piano
New Symphony Orchestra
Burleske in D minor for Piano and Orchestra
Friedrich Gulda, piano
London Symphony Orchestra
Recording Location: Kingsway Hall, London, UK, 27, 29 May 1952 (Rachmaninov), 15–16 September 1954 (Strauss)

CD 5
Violin Concerto No 1 in D major, Op 6
Violin Concerto No 2 in B minor, Op 7
Ruggiero Ricci, violin
London Symphony Orchestra
Recording Location: Kingsway Hall, London, UK, 14 February 1955 (Violin Concerto No 1), 18 February 1955 (Violin Concerto No 2)

CD 6
GEORGES BIZET (1838–1875)
Carmen Suite No 1 (excerpts)
MANUEL DE FALLA (1876–1946)
El amor brujo – Suite
Capriccio Italien, Op 45
Francesca da Rimini, Op 32
London Philharmonic Orchestra (Bizet, Falla)
London Symphony Orchestra (Tchaikovsky)
Recording Location: Kingsway Hall, London, UK, 3 February 1950 (Bizet), 4 February 1950 (Falla), 17–18 January 1956 (Tchaikovsky)

CD 7
JEAN SIBELIUS (1865–1957)
Karelia Overture, Op 10
Symphony No 1 in E minor, Op 39
Symphony No 7 in C major, Op 105
London Symphony Orchestra
Recording Location: Kingsway Hall, London, UK, 21–22 February 1952 (Symphony No 1), 22–25 February 1954 (Symphony No 7), 2–3 June 1955 (Karelia)

CD 8
Symphony No 2 in D major, Op 43
Symphony No 3 in C major, Op 52
London Symphony Orchestra
Recording Location: Kingsway Hall, London, UK, 11–12 May 1953 (Symphony No 2), 5–6 May 1954 (Symphony No 3)

CD 9
Symphony No 4 in A minor, Op 63
Symphony No 5 in E-flat major, Op 82
London Symphony Orchestra
Recording Location: Kingsway Hall, London, UK, 22–25 February 1954 (Symphony No 4), 25–27 January 1955 (Symphony No 5)

CD 10
Symphony No 6 in D minor, Op 104
Pohjola’s Daughter, Op 49
Pelléas et Mélisande, Op 46 – Suite (excerpts)
Nightride and Sunrise, Op 55
London Symphony Orchestra
Recording Location: Kingsway Hall, London, UK, 25–27 January 1955 (Symphony No 6), 5–6 May 1954 (Pohjola’s Daughter), 2–3 June 1955 (Pelléas et Mélisande, Nightride and Sunrise)

CD 11
SIR EDWARD ELGAR (1857–1934)
Falstaff – Symphonic Study, Op 68
Introduction and Allegro for Strings, Op 47
Serenade for String Orchestra in E minor, Op 20
Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis
Fantasia on Greensleeves
London Symphony Orchestra (Elgar: Falstaff)
Members of the New Symphony Orchestra of London
Recording Locations: Kingsway Hall, London, UK, 22–25 February 1954 (Elgar: Falstaff); West Hampstead Studios, London, UK, 31 March–1 April 1952 (Elgar: Introduction and Allegro for strings, Serenade for String Orchestra; Vaughan Williams)

CD 12
The Walk to the Paradise Garden (Intermezzo, from A Village Romeo and Juliet)
A Song of Summer
Brigg Fair – An English Rhapsody
On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring
Paris (The Song of a Great City)
London Symphony Orchestra
Recording Location: Kingsway Hall, London, UK, 23–25 February 1953 (The Walk to the Paradise Garden, A Song of Summer, Brigg Fair, On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring), 20–21 October 1953 (Paris)

CD 13
In a Summer Garden
Summer Night on the River
London Symphony Orchestra
Façade – An Entertainment
Sir Peter Pears and Dame Edith Sitwell, reciters
English Opera Group Ensemble
Recording Locations: Kingsway Hall, London, UK, 20–21 October 1953 (Delius); West Hampstead Studios, London, UK, 7–8 July, 10–11 August 1954 (Walton)

CD 14
Der Rosenkavalier – First Suite of Waltzes
Dream Pantomime (from Hänsel und Gretel)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Overture di Ballo
Shepherd Fennel’s Dance
PERCY GRAINGER (1882–1961)
Shepherd’s Hey
New Symphony Orchestra of London
Vanity Fair
With Emma to Town
London Promenade Orchestra
Recording Locations: Kingsway Hall, London, UK, 14 April 1950 (Strauss, Humperdinck), 5–6 December 1956 (Sullivan, Gardiner, Grainger); Decca Studios, West Hampstead, London, UK, 21 June 1954 (Collins)

Remastering Engineer: Chris Bernauer

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