Boult decca1 4842204

Sir Adrian Boult (conductor)
The Decca Legacy: Volume 1 – British Music
rec. 1952-61, Kingsway Hall, London and Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London
No texts
ELOQUENCE 484 2204 [16 CDs: 764]

Old wine, new bottle. Eloquence has just released three Boult boxes that total 49 CDs. They are largely original jacket releases, and this means – let’s lance this boil right at the start – that had they not been, the number of discs would have been significantly reduced with a consequent reduction in price (one assumes). I mention this in the interests of objectivity whilst thinking from the consumer’s point of view.

Eloquence’s job has been to concentrate on a Boultian focal point and in this British legacy collection, there are already Eloquence releases of the Elgar Concerto with Campoli on 4825143, Vaughan Williams’ Job and The Wasps are on 4611222, and the Holst (with a caveat below), in the shape of the 1961 The Perfect Fool and Egdon Heath on 4802323 with The Hymn of Jesus, Op. 37 on 4802327. Walton’s Siesta, Portsmouth Point and Scapino are on 4803783.

The Arnold English Dances have been multiply reissued, first on a single ‘British Music Collection’ from Decca (review) and then in a 4-CD Decca box (review). These latest transfers don’t sound as limited as those. The excellence of Eloquence’s restorations is pretty much a given. Perhaps the small Elgar pieces that complete the first disc may have somewhat fallen through the cracks. There’s a delicate Chanson de Matin, an equally fine companion, Chanson de Nuit, and a self-confident Three Bavarian Dances.

CD 2 contains Campoli’s recording of the Elgar, which I discussed in the context of Eloquence’s Campoli edition, called ‘The Bel Canto Violin’ (review) but in far more intensive detail when it appeared on Beulah (review).

The core of the box, however, is the first ever Vaughan Williams cycle including the Ninth, which was made for Everest and subsequently made available to Decca under licence. I discussed this mono (except Nos 8 and 9 which are in stereo) LPO cycle in the context of a review of the later EMI cycle (review) but you can also read reviews specifically of this first cycle in other places (review) when it first appeared in Eloquence’s own prior releases, though note that that reissue didn’t included the Ninth, and in Decca’s ‘British Music Collection’ (review) which does include it. You should also be aware of Pristine Audio’s XR transfers of this cycle, algorithmically boosted examples which, naturally, sound bigger and ‘better’ but with which, in all honesty, I have yet to be reconciled and consider an idealisation of mono originals and not sympathetic restorations of them. No other critic seems to agree, so feel free to ignore me. (see link below)

The Wasps was also available on Beulah (review) and both it and Job are contained in the Decca Sound Mono Years box, CD 10 (review) where you’ll find a succinct review from me. Completing CD 11 however is the ballet music to Old King Cole, where the Original Jacket principle gets re-jigged. These were two of the select few pieces of his own music that VW recorded, in 1925 for Vocalion, when he directed the Aeolian Orchestra. He recorded Old King Cole pretty much intact but only the Overture to The Wasps. You can find the restorations of these elsewhere; not here, of course.

Walton’s Portsmouth Point overture is also in a ‘World of Walton’ Decca release (review). Siesta
Scapino, Portsmouth Point, and Orb and Sceptre (which is not in this box, as previously noted) are on 4803783. Siesta has a certain sultriness but Portsmouth Point lacks requisite vigour and is bit ramrod for most tastes.

CD 14 was called ‘A Concert of English Music’ and contains Butterworth’s A ‘Shropshire Lad’ Rhapsody, which Boult had first recorded at his second recording session back in 1920 and of which he’d heard Nikisch’s (apparently slovenly) premiere performance in Leeds. It also contains The Banks of Green Willow. He had known the composer and remained a most devoted and outstanding exponent of his music right up his Lyrita days. Bax’s Tintagel has been reissued serval times (review). I’d agree if you argued it cries out for Phase-4 or Mercury sonics but if you can deal with mono you’ll be rewarded with a powerful ride. There are two versions of Holst’s ballet music for The Perfect Fool. The 1954 version has been released on a single CD from Eloquence itself (review) where you’ll also find The Hymn of Jesus and a chilling Egdon Heath. There are three previously unissued performances in this disc, all by Holst: A Somerset Rhapsody (very folkloric), the Scherzo from the Unfinished Symphony, H192, which sounds like The Planets-meets-a-Village Maypole (he re-made both these for Lyrita) and the second Song without Words, the Marching Song, of which this is his only surviving recording as his 1922 attempt wasn’t issued.

Along with The Hymn of Jesus on CD 15 you’ll find Boult’s stereo 1960 ballet music from The Perfect Fool – it’s much the best music in the opera – and another previously unreleased piece, the Country Song from Songs without Words, recorded in 1961. The last disc, CD 16, contains Humphrey Searle’s Symphony No.1, recorded in 1960, and of which this is its CD première. It’s a thorny, sometimes intense work that Boult presumably felt duty bound to conduct – it was sponsored by the British Council – and which he largely keeps together. It’s noticeable though that a later exponent like Alun Francis shaves minutes off Boult’s timings; 22:45 to Boult’s 28. The two Seiber pieces that end the box don’t feature Boult but do feature the composer and were part of the same original LP. It’s good to hear the watchful Cecil Aronowitz in the Elegy for viola. Peter Pears is the spectral-sounding and melancholic speaker in Three Fragments from ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’.

Apart from their transfers one thing that Eloquence does outstandingly well is booklet documentation. This one is packed with photographs, LP reproductions, reproductions of notes from Ursula Vaughan Willams over aspects of Boult’s recordings, Boult’s own handwritten notes and an absorbingly interesting note from Nigel Simeone whose book on Boult and VW has recently been published

Conclusion? If you already have the VW cycle in one of the previous transfers, then there isn’t much real cause to acquire this box. If, however, you’re new to Boult’s art and don’t mind the largely mono sonics then this may well be a relatively painless and conductor-focused opportunity to acquire a swathe of these splendid recordings.

Jonathan Woolf

In the November Listening Studio comparisons were made between selected examples of these recordings and the Pristine restorations. here

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CD 1
Malcolm Arnold (1921-2006)
Four English Dances, Op.27
Four English Dances, Op.33
Edward Elgar (1857-1934)
Chanson de Matin, Op.15 No.12
Chanson de Nuit, Op.15 No.1
Three Bavarian Dances
London Philharmonic Orchestra
rec. 1954, Kingsway Hall, London

CD 2
Edward Elgar (1857-1934)
Violin Concerto in B minor, Op.61
Alfred Campoli (violin)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
rec. October 1954, Kingsway Hall, London

CD 3
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1954)
A Sea Symphony
Isobel Baillie (soprano): John Cameron (baritone)
London Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir
rec. December 1953 and January 1954, Kingsway Hall, London

CD 4
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1954)
Symphony No.2 ‘A London Symphony’
London Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir
rec. January 1952, Kingsway Hall, London

CD 5
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1954)
Symphony No.3 ‘A Pastoral Symphony’
Margaret Ritchie (soprano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
rec. December 1952, Kingsway Hall, London

CD 6
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1954)
Symphony No.4 in F minor
London Philharmonic Orchestra
rec. December 1953, Kingsway Hall, London

CD 7
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1954)
Symphony No.5 in D major
London Philharmonic Orchestra
rec. December 1953, Kingsway Hall, London

CD 8
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1954)
Symphony No.6 in E minor
Speech by Ralph Vaughan Williams
London Philharmonic Orchestra
rec. December 1953 and January 1954, Kingsway Hall, London

CD 9
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1954)
Symphony No.7 ‘Sinfonia Antartica’
Margaret Ritchie (soprano): John Gielgud (speaker)
Speech by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Symphony No.9 in E minor
London Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir
rec. December 1953, Kingsway Hall, London, and August 1958, Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London

CD 10
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1954)
Symphony No.8 in D minor
Partita for Double String Orchestra
London Philharmonic Orchestrar
rec. September and November 1956, Kingsway Hall, London

CD 11
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1954)
Old King Cole, ballet for orchestra
The Wasps, Aristophanic Suite
London Philharmonic Orchestra
rec. September 1953, Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London: December 1953 and January 1954, Kingsway Hall, London

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1954)
Job – A Masue for Dancing
London Philharmonic Orchestra
rec. January 1954, Kingsway Hall, London

William Walton (1902-1983)
Portsmouth Point – An Overture
Scapino – A Comedy Overture
The Wise Virgins, ballet suite arranged from works by J.S Bach
London Philharmonic Orchestra
rec. October 1954, Kingsway Hall, London

George Butterworth (1885-1916)
A ‘Shropshire Lad’ Rhapsody
The Banks of Green Willow
Arnold Bax (1883-1953)
Gustav Holst (1874-1934)
The Perfect Fool – Ballet Music, Op.39, H150
A Somerset Rhapsody, Op.21 No.2, H878
Scherzo from Unfinished Symphony, H192
Song without words: No.2 Marching Song H88/2
London Philharmonic Orchestra
rec. December 1955 and December 1956, Kingsway Hall, London and July 1956, Assembly Hall, Walthamstow, London

Gustav Holst (1874-1934)
The Hymn of Jesus
BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
The Perfect Fool – Ballet Music, Op.39, H150
Egdon Heath, Op.47, H172
Songs without Words: No.1 Country Song, Op.22
London Philharmonic Orchestra
rec. March 1961 and March 1962, Kingsway Hall, London

Humphrey Searle (1915-1982)
Symphony No.1, Op.23
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Mátyás Seiber (1955-1960)
Elegy for viola and small orchestra
Cecil Arnonowitz (viola)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Mátyás Seiber
Three Fragments from ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’
Peter Pears (speaker)/Dorian Singers/Melos Ensemble/Mátyás Seiber
rec. January to March 1960, Kingsway Hall