Sir Adrian Boult – A Musical Legacy – London Philharmonic Records

by | Jan 4, 2021 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Sir Adrian Boult – A Musical Legacy– London Philharmonic Orchestra – London Philharmonic Records –  LPO-0119/1-5 (5 CDs) 87:12*; 82:59; 69:11; 78:00; 71:47 (9/25/20) [Distr. by PIAS] ****:

A Musical Legacy, 5 CDs (complete list of ontents below):
The Early Years
Beethoven and Beyond
Music from the Ballet
The Versatile Conductor
Champion of British Music

Sir Adrian Boult (1889-1983) embodied much of the true British spirit – despite his apprenticeship under the Germans Fritz Steinbach and Arthur Nikisch – of quiet demeanor and fiery musicianship, an undemonstrative but thoroughly controlled approach to a huge range of compositions in diverse styles. In these respects, Boult paralleled the French maestro Pierre Monteux, but Boult’s linear, tautly economical conducting style more often resembled Arturo Toscanini for drive and orchestral discipline. Noted for his adherence to any composer’s intentions, Boult often received plaudits for his “affectionate care” (Edward Elgar) of works given their world premieres

Boult enjoyed a long and genial association with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, established in 1932 by Sir Thomas Beecham, and inviting Boult to lead in 1940, when Beecham found engagements overseas. In 1950, Boult succeeded an ailing Eduard van Beinum as Principal Conductor. The present collection assembles various Boult commercial recordings of familiar and rare repertory in order to suggest the breadth of his musical culture. Among the more renowned collaborations that appear, from Disc 3, “The Versatile Conductor,” Vaughan Williams’ lovely 1914The Lark Ascending from 1952 with violinist Jean Pougnet (1907-1968), captures the bucolic lyric of poet George Meredith with transparent, improvisatory finesse. In fact, the entire “Versatile” experience testifies to a mastery of distinct musical styles that includes a rousing Clarke Trumpet Voluntary, Walton’s salty Portsmouth Point, the fleet and whimsical Wedding Cake of Saint-Saens, a broodingly potent Lemminkainen Return of Sibelius, and a percussively spicy and lyrical Cuban Overture of Gershwin from 1968.The real surprise to most of us Boult connoisseurs comes in the form of Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta from 1955, in which the second movement Allegro packs an incisive punch the equal of anything Reiner, Dorati, or Fricsay might have delivered.

Disc 2, “From the Ballet,” opens with a menacing Ritual Fire Dance of Falla, the oboe, trumpets, and strings in scathing form. The major works, the suites recorded in 1955 from Leo Delibes’ 1876 Sylvia, an Arcadian lyric, and Coppelia, the 1870 score taken from E.T. A. Hoffmann proceed in an understated but poised manner, of which his Intermezzo et Valse Lente from Sylvia and the Prelude et Mazurka from Coppelia, which make me wish Boult had recorded Le Cid by Massenet. The Saint-Saens’ Danse Macabre from 1967 moves quite quickly but retains its eerie and plastic allure. The Holst ballet suite (1923) from his opera The Perfect Fool allows Boult to lavish mock-Wagnerian harmonies and pungent accents into music dear to the conductor’s heart, having championed Holst’s work and having given the premiere of The Planets. Although Boult led a 1936 performance of Le Sacre du Printemps in Paris, the recording of the lithe parody, Circus Polka (1967), is all we have of Boult in Stravinsky’s music.

Boult (rec. 1949) on Disc 1 certainly respects Elgar’s demand for the first movement of his 1908 Symphony No. 1 in A-flat Major to be played Andante: Nobilimente e semplice, although the harmonic structure, often reliant on the tritone relationship between A-flat Major and D minor, invokes a series of chromatic allusions and leitmotifs imbedded in Wagnerian style. Boult captures the music’s tensions between ideality and bucolic recollection and fateful, ominous passions. The F-sharp minor scherzo (Allegro molto) Boult realizes as an aggressive march that manages to find moments of repose, utilizing two harps in the texture. The conductor Hans Richter well admired Elgar’s third movement, a D Major Adagio that Richter thought “worthy of Beethoven.” Boult imparts a mystical, plangent tone to the music that easily rivals the “Nimrod” section of the Enigma Variations. The clear influence in the Lento – Allegro finale, Brahms, makes his presence known in martial allusions from that composer’s Third Symphony. In terms of structure, the return of the processional motif from movement one parallels the Brahms, who too quotes his opening motif cyclically at the coda. But whereas Brahms ends his symphony resignedly, Elgar ushers in a splendid, throbbing peroration, after Boult’s having well lulled us with the lushly ardent passages that manage to compete with the militancy and struggle for a sense of spiritual liberation.

Few orchestral works prove so personal to Sir Adrian Boult than the Sixth Symphony in E minor of Vaughan Williams, which Boult premiered in 1948.  Composed 1944-1947, this music (rec. 1953) possesses a grim, revolutionary spirit in British music that startled the public as no other work since the Elgar A-flat Symphony forty years prior.  The clash of E minor and F minor sets off a battleground sensibility, only occasionally assuaged by a sense of humanity in E Major. The low E segues to the Moderato, which Boult delivers with percussive mania. Vaughan Williams cared deeply for the Café de Paris nightclub in London, and its destruction warrants the sarcastic Scherzo: Allegro vivace that features a solo tenor saxophone.  Fugal and pianissimo, the Epilogue: Moderato is supposed to have a T.S. Eliot “this is the way the world ends. . .in a whimper” ethos, a post-apocalyptic bleakness.  We would have had an uncompromising vision – and do, up to movement 3 – performed without compromise. The projected time for this CD, however, at 87:12 exceeds the capability of the medium.

Boult used to comment in rehearsal that certain music “plays itself,” and his Beethoven Eroica seems to conform to his relaxed philosophy, until we realize its direct, dramatic and lyrical assertiveness. Recorded in 1957 for Vanguard Records as part of a set of four Beethoven symphonies, this performance gleaned much praise in its era, and it holds up well, much in the Toscanini tradition. The LPO winds and brass projected an alert, elevated sense of motion, and Boult’s cadences bear the stamp of a conductor attuned to Beethoven’s architecture. The 1967 performance of the Bruch Kol Nidre features the cello talent of Christopher Bunting, whose thoughtful lyricism will remind many of the classic reading by Casals. Disc 2 ends with the 1914 Variations on a Nursery Song, Op. 25 of Dohnanyi “live” from 21 November 1955. Here, Boult has as his soloist pianist Patricia Bishop in a work he had prior both performed and recorded with the composer himself. The work’s ominous, Wagnerian beginning yields to the simple C Major tune from Mozart, better known in its English equivalent as “Twinkle, twinkle, little star.” A clever blend of musical styles, the work passes through Vienna in a waltz at Variation 7 and in imposing figures in C minor at Variation 9 (Presto). Something of Dohnanyi’s antiquarian strain informs his Variations 10 and 11, a Passacaglia and Choral, respectively, that lead to a “learned” conclusion, Fugato that closes – in most of its original innocence – his most popular, concerted work.

Disc 5 offers Sir Adrian Boult in his home environs, as a “Champion of British Music.” From that 21 November 1955 St. Cecilia’s Day Concert, Boult is joined by baritone Frederick Harvey in Stanford’s 1910 Songs of the Fleet, settings of four poems by Sir Henry Newbolt that celebrate Britain’s naval glories. Two of the poems directly revere Lord Nelson. The work as a whole enjoys a jingoistic swagger a sense of awed entitlement from Harvey and the Croydon Philharmonic Society Chorus. 

Once more, from that same, live concert we have Malcolm Arnold’s 1954 Concerto for Organ and Orchestra, with Canadian organist Hugh McLean. Much in the style of Handel, the three-movement concerto features three (high) trumpets, timpani, and strings. Two themes dominate the opening Vivace movement: galloping strings in octaves and the organ theme, intruded upon by a vehement tutti. The canonic elements will appear again in the last movement, Allegretto. The Lento middle movement presents a simple, meditative song-form. The last movement, a clever fugue, varies, cyclically, the motives of movement one. At the climax, violins and violas play the fugue against the first movement tune in the organ and trumpets. 

Boult had great affection for the few surviving works of George Butterworth (1885-1916), whom the Great War snuffed out. His Rhapsody- A Shropshire lad comes in this performance from the BBC Maida Vale studio from 2 March 1969. A richly layered idyll, the piece incorporates the song “The Loveliest of Trees” into a score that bears the hallmarks of the later music for John Barry’s Out of Africa. No less affectionately rendered, the Arnold Bax symphonic poem 1916 The Garden of Fand (rec. January 1962) invokes Celtic folklore and the conceit of the sea itself as a “garden” onto which a ship has been cast ashore. Utilizing parallel thirds and whole tones, the piece reflects the influence of Debussy, while its scoring retains colors emblematic of the Bax’s unique ear for tone painting. At last, Boult conducts Elgar’s 1904 In the South Overture- Alassio (rec. 1955), his fond recollection of a spring day in Italy, in the Valley of Andorra, which raises in the composer’s mind lines from Byron’ Childe Harold of a “land mightiest in its old command. . .the garden of the world.” Boult leads a virile, driven rendition of the work, from its opening E-flats and string tremolandos and lulling moments to the development, marked con passione, and ultimately to dreams of Rome’s ancient, militant pride, and the return to the bucolic reverie of the present. Boult manages to make the work’s episodic material a sustained, personal epic of power and subjective delight and pride of life.  

–Gary Lemco
*Performance incomplete due to timing restrictions

Sir Adrian Boult – A Musical Legacy, Contents:
ARNOLD: Concerto for Organ and Orchestra, Op. 47
BARTOK: Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta
BAX: The Garden of Fand;
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55 “Eroica”
BRUCH: Kol Nidre, Op. 47
BUTTERWORTH: A Shropshire Lad
CLARKE: Trumpet Voluntary from Suite in D Major
DELIBES: Sylvia – Ballet Suite; Coppelia – Ballet Suite; Naila Ballet Suite: Valse
DOHNANYI: Variations on a Nursery Song, Op. 25
ELGAR: Symphony No. 1 in A-flat Major, Op. 55; In the South, “Alassio,” Op. 50
FALLA: Ritual Fire Dance from El amor brujo
GERSHWIN: Cuban Overture
HOLST: The Perfect Fool – Ballet Suite;  – Symphony No. 6 in E minor
WALTON: Portsmouth Point Overture
WOLF-FERRARI: Intermezzo from The Jewels of the Madonna

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