These recordings from the 30s and 40s show off the still imperial British lion as a classical music force, with the noble and courageous Adrian Boult conducting the magnificent BBC Symphony Orchestra. The combination was a formidable one, Boult having led them in their first public concertos in 1930 and by 1932 having secured them a recording contract with HMV.
It’s not clear from these recordings that either the orchestra (aside from the heroic brass) or the conductor were dazzling virtuosos, but the sheer integrity of the readings, achieved through a surprisingly urgent simplicity of phrasing lends the music a direct power that speaks from the heart. The best examples of this are the two Berlioz overtures (King Lear and Les francs juges), the Hebrides Overture of Mendelssohn and a previously unpublished recording of the rarely-heard or recorded Scherzo from an unfinished symphony of Gustav Holst – a piece first performed by Boult and the BBC in 1935, less than a year after the composer’s death.
Deriving from a non-commercial 78rpm record made by the BBC in 1944 for its Transcription Service, this recording would typically have been taken from a live performance, pressed in small numbers, and licensed to overseas broadcasting stations. It is a commanding performance of powerful music.
At mid-price and well-restored by Michael Dutton using the CEDAR system, this is a very worthwhile opportunity to glimpse prewar English music- making at its best.
— Laurence Vittes