A master of his craft, Sir Adrian Boult (1889-1983) was a selfless and consummate conductor of new (many world and UK premieres), rare and core repertoire, as well as a hardy perennial in the recording studio over several decades: an extensive and non-pigeonholeable discography being the result. He was fruitfully associated with all the London Orchestras throughout his long career and especially the BBC Symphony (1930-50, its first conductor) and then the London Philharmonic (1950-57), returning often to both as a venerable guest.

The first disc of “vinyl sources”, a generous eighty-seven minutes’ worth, of this LPO celebration of a distinguished maestro couples two great English Symphonies – Elgar’s No.1 and Vaughan Williams’s Sixth. The Elgar (recorded 1949, Abbey Road Studio One) is the first of Sir Adrian’s three commercial recordings of it (the subsequent two are also LPO, for respectively Lyrita and EMI). This version from 1949 is a fiery affair, the music passionately pressed ahead, the LPO inspired. The sound is vivid in fully scored passages if a little discoloured elsewhere … but … what should be the continuity of the second (Scherzo) and third movements is unaccountably broken by several seconds of silence, although, when reached, the Adagio is rapturously expansive and intimately expressive. The Finale – from misty formations to Edwardian grandeur – is all-of-a-piece. The VW (recorded 1953 for Decca) is the second of Boult’s three studio dates for this post-World War Two masterpiece – LSO fore and New Philharmonia aft – music that Boult premiered. His deliberate pacing gives the first movement an apocalyptic and menacing quality – no matter how well I know, or thought I knew, this recording (Decca already has it in its catalogue) I was taken unawares, chillingly, similarly during the ominous second, the malevolent and saxophone-sleazy third, and the mysterious otherworldly Finale. As they should, the movements go one to another without a pause.

The eighty-three-minute Disc Two includes Boult’s measured and wholesome 1957 ‘Eroica’ Symphony (there’s a later, 1961, also-LPO ‘Eroica’ available here: https://crqeditions.bandcamp.com/album/crq036-beethoven-symphony-no-3-eroica). Following the Beethoven are Bruch’s Kol Nidrei (1967), with Christopher Bunting as the eloquent cellist, and Dohnányi’s Variations on a Nursery Song (its dramatic opening not a portent of things to come; vivid characterisation, wit and scintillation abound) featuring pianist Patricia Bishop in what was her Royal Festival Hall debut (1955, she was twenty-two, a graduate of the Royal College of Music), very talented, and deftly accompanied by Boult and the LPO. (Patricia Bishop seems to have passed-away in 2014.)

Disc Three (seventy minutes, 1954, 1955 & 1967) opens with the ‘Ritual Fire Dance’ from Falla’s El amor brujo – hot stuff – and moves on to selections from Delibes’s scores for the ballets Sylvia and Coppélia – both done in fine style – before encountering Saint-Saëns’s Danse macabre, Holst’s Perfect Fool ballet music (the mono version, there’s a stereo re-make) and Stravinsky’s Circus Polka (the elephants are really put through their paces by Boult, the LPO too): all testimony to this conductor’s versatility.

Disc Four (seventy-eight minutes) continues to embrace Boult’s wide sympathies (as recorded here between 1952 and 1967). It opens with a grand account of Jeremiah Clarke’s Prince of Denmark’s March (aka “Trumpet Voluntary”). Following is VW’s Lark Ascending with Jean Pougnet (LPO leader at the time) as high-flying soloist – in a not entirely satisfactory transfer, somewhat wishy-washy – and anyway Boult would go on to record a quite wonderful Lark with Hugh Bean and the New Philharmonia. The hooves of Sibelius’s ‘Lemminkäinen’s Return’ (from the Opus 22 Legends) hit the ground running, the music’s homeward-bound course never in doubt. Walton’s Portsmouth Point is brilliantly done, a stand-to-attention performance rhythmically nipped and tucked. Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (in a somewhat and sometimes-tainted transfer, low and pianissimo frequencies affected) is the ‘meat’ of this CD, a committed performance and musically appreciative (if not always exacting enough) of this seminal masterpiece; a pioneering spirit (1955) holds the attention though. Charming pieces by Wolf-Ferrari and Saint-Saëns get us near the finishing line, the winning post reached with George Gershwin’s swashbuckling and opulent Cuban Overture (with its plethora of percussion); Sir Adrian may not have sported much hair but he lets-down what he had with gusto.

The final disc (seventy-two minutes) includes Stanford’s Songs of the Fleet and the surprise that is Malcolm Arnold’s Organ Concerto (unknown to me, anyway; his Opus 47), rather good, with Hugh McLean as soloist on the RFH organ, the dreamy/ecclesiastical slow movement being the highlight: beware of coughing though, for this and the Stanford are from the previously mentioned 1955 concert. So too Elgar’s In the South (Alassio), reported to last here less than twelve minutes (roughly half its length), and it does, for it is incomplete – I see little point including this torso when there are two ‘proper’ Boult recordings of this expansive work, both LPO – such as https://www.classicalsource.com/cd/boult-conducts-elgar-on-testament/, with the 1949 First Symphony), and, now, I really am missing Boult’s superb LPO outing for Arnold’s English Dances (but there is anyway a Decca release of these two sets of timeless miniatures*). Also on this LPO disc is George Butterworth’s poignant A Shropshire Lad (1969), intensely moulded, and Arnold Bax’s The Garden of Fand (1962, not Boult’s decade-later Lyrita taping, also LPO): magical (mono) listening.

So, tip of the iceberg stuff in terms of Sir Adrian’s recorded output if a treasure-trove on its own terms. Presentation is excellent: the booklet includes a comprehensive note from Andrew Neill as well as biographical and discographical information. LPO-0119 (5 CDs).


*Andrew Rose’s transfer for Pristine added below