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Sir Adrian Boult (conductor) The NBC Recordings George BUTTERWORTH (1885-1916) A Shropshire Lad, Rhapsody (1912) [9:37] Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Symphony No 7 in A, Op 92 (1812) [38:50] Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934) Variations on an Original Theme,
'Enigma', Op 36 (1900) [30:21] Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
A Fugal Concerto, Op 40, No 2 (1923) [9:03] Sir William WALTON (1902-1983)
Viola Concerto (1929) [23:27] Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958) Symphony No 4 in F minor (1934) [33:55] Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990) El Salón México (1936) [10:30]
William Primrose (viola)
NBC Symphony Orchestra
rec. live broadcast recordings NBC, May 1938 PRISTINE PASC626 [2 CDs: 160:41]
These reissues arrive from the left field at a time when Boult’s music-making is enjoying fresh trawls through unexpected sources: ICA, LPO Live, and, who knows, there may yet be a Lyrita Itter Boult broadcast edition; we can hope.
These 1938 live broadcast concert recordings are in very reasonable mono - clear and spick and span but in the case of the Butterworth raw at the forte edges. They were made by NBC. Applause is included. A year later and New York would hear Boult and the NYPO in a World Fair concert (10 June 1939) consisting of Vaughan Williams’
Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus, Bliss Piano Concerto and Symphony No 7 by Bax (the dedicatee of the RVW Fourth Symphony) and itself dedicated to “The People of America”. Perhaps Pristine have these 1939 events in another double set queued up for us; I can hope.
The Butterworth piece is classic Boult territory and the quality of the sound is such that there are some joyous and very creditable pianissimos. These are superbly captured by NBC and rendered by Pristine. Beethoven’s Seventh is in similar satisfying and startlingly forward sound. Boult delivers a precisely calculated and expressed performance. It’s fiery and sparks are flung. As far as I can see, Boult in Beethoven 7 is not that easy to source; this puts that right. The audience receives this Seventh with fervent enthusiasm. Boult and Elgar’s Enigma are also the best of familiar companions. Listen to the Romanza for those surprising swooping portamenti slides which Boult was later to “let go”. I have lost track of the number of Boult/Enigma recordings but this touching version flooded with pulsating tenderness, balletic qualities, explosive specifics, slashing bite and tension can now be added.
The second of these two well packed discs (78:11 + 75:53) opens with an oh-so deliberately marked out Holst Fugal Concerto. Although Boult set down Holst’s Fugal Overture in later life this concerto was not so lucky. It is, I think, the only Boult recording of the Concerto to be had on commercial disc. Once again the sound is very good indeed. Listen to the weaving and lacing of woodwind solos in the last movement. William Primrose in the Walton Viola Concerto had stepped up from the ranks of the NBCSO into the solo spotlight. It’s not my favourite of the Walton concertos but here Primrose and Boult deliver it with spitfire velocity. Try the Vivo middle movement where you would expect vivacity but it’s also never more remote than skin-deep in the moody flanking movements. At the time of this broadcast the Vaughan Williams Fourth Symphony was only five years old. It flies along but with plenty of clarity in the phrasing. A springy tension is very much in evidence in the feline, seething lyricism of the first movement when the composer unleashes that tune. It’s a moment of release to be found also in RVW’s Sixth Symphony and in comparable moments in the first movements of Havergal Brian’s Gothic and Third Symphonies. The storminess here never becomes bluster. It is not at the expense of phrasal clarity which is also careful not over-careful. Finally (Busoni's Comedy Overture is a bonus track for this set in MP3 version) Copland’s El Salón México comes hot out of the oven. Reportedly these were the US premieres of both the Copland and the Walton. El Salon once again benefits from Boult’s minute attention to details of balance and pace. It sounds as if the principal trumpet was struggling a bit at the start but nothing untoward. Again the recording has the music shining out of unclouded blue skies; not fruitily rich but intensely enjoyable.