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Boult BBC v1 PASC670

Sir Adrian Boult (conductor)
Boult and the BBC Symphony: The Pre-War Recordings Volume 1
rec. 1932-1937

It’s good to know that all Boult’s pre-war orchestral recordings with the BBC Symphony are to be reissued by Pristine Audio in Mark Obert-Thorn’s transfers. I assume this will take us from the initial April 1932 Elgar orchestration of Chopin’s Funeral March to the recordings in 1937 that included Bliss’ Music for Strings and Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings.

The formation of the BBC orchestra is probably too well known to require rehashing here, but it was the galvanizing element in the raising of orchestral standards in London in the early 1930s along with Beecham’s LPO. The BBC could employ the two best string players in the country, Sammons and Tertis, to conduct multiple auditions, and the core personnel was soon joined by ambitious young players. The orchestra was led by Arthur Catterall, a soloist-level concertmaster, the violas by Bernard Shore, Lauri Kennedy led the cellos, Aubrey Brain the horns, Frederick Thurston was principal clarinet, Sidonie Goossens the harpist and Eugene Cruft led the basses.

Talking of Cruft, one of the things that’s immediately apparent in the Bach Orchestral Suite is the strong bass-up orchestral sonority, a quality not often found in London orchestras at the time, which tended to favour a more circumscribed orchestral sound. This is a sonorous, powerful performance – Boult really does put down his famous Horlicks and pick up the tempo in the second half of the Ouverture – and far more mobile than others of the period which preferred more lingering tempi. Boult’s Air is taken at almost the same speed as he was later to take for Decca in the 1950s. The filler was Pick-Mangiagalli’s orchestration of the Preludio from the solo Violin Partita No.3 which shows off the string tone of the new orchestra. Boult only ever recorded one piece of Gluck, the overture to Alceste in 1937, by which time Catterall had left to be replaced by Paul Beard. Boult recorded both the Coriolan and Egmont overtures during 1933 – strong, resilient performances. Mozart’s overture to The Impressario was the filler side to the May 1933 recording of Symphony No.41. Mark Obert-Thorn conjectures that this was intended to replace Albert Coates’ 1927 recording of the symphony – which incidentally contained the same coupling as Boult’s – and that might well be true, though the Coates was still available for purchase up to 1939. Boult recorded this symphony along with the Haffner over 40 years later in 1974 in similalrly convincing readings. In 1933 his tempi were alert, and once again there is a strong ground-up string sonority. Characterisation is adept, and the antiphonal violins certainly make their mark in the finale. Boult proves a steadier interpreter than Coates’ high-octane reading.

The Cosė fan tutte overture could be wittier but it prefaces two major symphonic statements on the second disc, Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony and something of a Boult warhorse, Schubert’s ‘Great’. The Beethoven was his only recording of the work and he set it down very early in his relationship with the orchestra (after Brahms’ Tragic Overture, it was their third issued recording). Two previous recordings, from Hans Pfitzner and the Berlin Philharmonic and Franz Schalk with the Vienna Philharmonic, had reached a seemingly independent consensus as to tempo relationships, though Pfitzner was inclined to be quite free. Boult’s Beethovenian hero is always said to be Toscanini – linear, direct, lithe, as is Boult’s reading – but I suspect he was somewhat deferential to Weingartner too who was then held to be a Beethoven God but whose own slightly later recording in Vienna ironically aligns more closely with Pfitzner and Schalk. The Schubert drew from Boult a commanding control of its rhetoric as much as its horizontal tonal qualities. He was a powerful exponent of musical architecture and this, allied to what Bernard Shore called his ‘idealism’, made him a near-perfect Schubert exponent.

The transfers are outstandingly good, most being taken from quiet American pressings. If future volumes are as good as this one, Boult’s pre-war recordings will be in the best possible hands.

Jonathan Woolf

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068
Preludio from Violin Partita No. 3 in E major, BWV 1006 orch. Pick-Mangiagalli
Christoph Willibald von GLUCK
Alceste – Overture
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Symphony No. 41 in C major, K 551 “Jupiter”
The Impresario, K 486 - Overture
Cosė fan tutte, K 588 – Overture
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Coriolan, Op. 62 - Overture
Egmont, Op. 84 - Overture
Symphony No. 8 in F major, Op. 93
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Symphony No. 9 in C major, D 944 “The Great”

Published: November 3, 2022

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