Originally published on September 15

This Covid-interrupted cycle resumes with the Sixth Symphony, launched like a coiled spring, tremendous energy, by Martyn Brabbins and the BBCSO, at once raging and striding, yet musically poised and precisely/vividly detailed, this post-World War II Symphony (the 1948 premiere conducted by Boult and recorded by him three times) really takes off in the first movement, the big tune that emerges a wonderful release, and into the ominous slow movement, which Brabbins keeps on the move, and related pulse-wise to what has just gone, building thunderous and insistent climaxes, then into a rampaging Scherzo, with a sleazy saxophone and an unstoppable and uninhibited impetuosity, uncaged under Brabbins’s watch – nothing pastoral about this music – and into the chilling Finale, icy, inhospitable, maybe atom-bomb-fallout-related (Hiroshima a recent event), although the composer denied any and every suggestion as to what this Symphony may be ‘about’, if anything.

This is a remarkable performance, as if Brabbins and the BBCSO, returning to recording following Lockdown, entered the Watford Colosseum eagerly, rehearsed, with the conductor advising Andrew Keener (producer): “we’re doing this straight through and you won’t need any retakes.” Who knows, I don’t, but there’s a fire and spontaneity here (with plenty of pianissimo and shading for the final movement) that suggests my made-up scenario may not be that whimsical.

The Eighth Symphony (premiered by Barbirolli) is a wonderful piece, the often-enchanted first movement ingenious in its variety and structure (and for which yours truly has a particular soft spot, for many years, as first heard through Previn’s recording), a bristling Scherzo for woodwinds and brass, an eloquent ‘Cavatina’ for strings, and ending with a ‘Toccata’ that employs a panoply of percussion and with a grandstand conclusion. Brabbins judges the whole to a nicety; there’s an affecting dolce quality to the ‘Cavatina’ strings, rapture too, and a fine violin solo from Stephen Bryant, and one later from cellist Susan Monks, and the Finale is suitably festive (and good to hear the piccolo so clearly at 4:13).

Engineer Dave Rowell captures these superb performances (don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t want to be without Boult, Andrew Davis, Elder, Handley, Previn, Slatkin, and others) and Simon Eadon is in charge of the sound for English Folk Songs (c.1912), for choir and orchestra, never published and maybe not performed until these sessions, as edited by Brabbins, the BBC Symphony Chorus in lusty voice; and also England, my England (1941), for baritone (Roderick Williams), chorus and orchestra – patriotic to the core, stirring and moving.

Hyperion CDA68396, with an informative booklet note by Robert Matthew-Walker, is released on October 7.