A fascinating slice of musical history. 1938, the recently knighted Sir Adrian Boult arrives in New York for concerts with Toscanini’s NBC Symphony Orchestra.
Andrew Rose’s remastering brings generally excellent, indeed startlingly fresh reproduction – full-bodied, dynamic, tangible – to belie the eighty-plus years that have elapsed since these broadcasts took place (I assume in Studio 8H?), and ‘dynamic’ sums up this imposing Beethoven 7, fiery and spontaneous, and nobly spacious in the second-movement Allegretto. Repeats are observed in the Scherzo and in the Finale, with the latter a thrilling ride come to coda, warmly applauded. Elgar’s Enigma Variations displays Boult’s mastery of, and ardency for, this inexhaustible opus.
CD2 opens with the pastoral and folksy charms of Gustav Holst’s A Fugal Concerto, brought off with relish and expressiveness, although it’s a pity that the flute and oboe soloists are not named. There follows an absorbing account of William Walton’s Viola Concerto (written for Tertis, premiered by Hindemith) with William Primrose – the second movement flies by, never heard it as fleet as this, precision-engineered, mind – and given this performance’s 1938 provenance we hear the work’s Original Version, for Walton revised the scoring a couple of decades later.
Ralph Vaughan Williams’s turbulent/aggressive and (slow movement) bleak Fourth Symphony receives an authoritative reading: Boult had led the first performance in April 1935, BBC Symphony Orchestra, and the composer had already recorded it with the same ensemble. Nor was VW4 new to the States, it had been played in December 1935 in Cleveland conducted by Rodziński. The NBC musicians are like ducks to water as they traverse this electrifying masterpiece and respond with alacrity to Boult’s sizzling tempos.
A shame that Busoni’s Comedy Overture is excluded due to lack of disc space – it is though available as a download feature – ironic given it is, as far as I know, new to Boult’s discography unlike George Butterworth’s A Shropshire Lad, which is already copiously represented, and opens CD1 with poignancy. Yet I’d have happily forgone the English composer for the Italian.
Closing this NBC show is Aaron Copland’s El Salón México – not a piece you’d readily associate with Boult (although he would record Gershwin’s Cuban Overture) and he leads a thoroughly idiomatic account; I wonder if Copland was present.
This Boult ‘big apple’ treasure (many thrills, a few spills) is on Pristine Classical PASC 626 (2 CDs).