VW extravaganza PASC672

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)
Boult – a Vaughan Williams Extravaganza
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
rec. 1953-1956
Reviewed as 24-bit FLAC download
Stereo & Ambient Stereo

Sir Adrian Boult established his career as an authoritative interpreter of English music; no one propagated the music of Elgar, Holst, Walton, Bliss, Ireland, Moeran, and Vaughan Williams more than he, and he was often the first to record them – although he did not record or play very much by Delius. If any English composer is most associated with Boult, it is Vaughan Williams. He recorded the symphonies twice, in mono and stereo, and his readings are prized for their depth of understanding and quality of performance. 

Boult enjoyed an extensive recording career; his first recordings were for HMV in 1920 with the British Symphony Orchestra of Butterworth’s A Shropshire Lad,La Boutique fantasqueThe Good-humoured Ladies, Bliss’s ballet Rout and the “Witch’s Ride and Dream” from Hänsel und Gretel. He continued recording for the same company when he was director of music of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in the 1930s, when he made his recording of Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis.

After leaving the BBC, Boult recorded the Vaughan Williams symphonic cycle with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and this group of orchestral pieces. Almost all are in mono, apart from the Partita for Double String Orchestra. In the 1950s, he diversified by recording with Decca, Pye and Nixa and with different ensembles in the UK. There were recordings for Everest, Westminster, Lyrita, and the World Record Club, as stereo technology allowed superior sound.

There are six versions of Boult’s Tallis Fantasia on record (one is from a radio broadcast). He first recorded it on 78s in 1940; another version is with the Vienna State Opera Orchestra in 1959. The recording here is beautifully performed, with the richly vibrant strings clearly heard. The remastering by Andrew Rose is warm and sonically brilliant. Another favourite piece on record for Boult was Job – unsurprisingly, as RVW dedicated the ballet to him. There are no fewer than four recordings available, of which the first is with the BBC in 1946 and the last on DVD from an LPO concert in 1972. Once again, the aural picture is warmly vibrant with delightful playing, especially of RVW’s exquisite orchestration for the alto saxophone. 

By contrast, Boult’s recording of the ballet Old King Cole is his only one and was the second ever made, after an acoustic version conducted by the composer in 1925. Boult brings out the vividness of Vaughan Williams’ orchestration of the old nursery rhyme and the dance numbers are exquisitely performed, the English folk themes clearly heard in the Morris Jig, the Bold Young Farmer, and in The Jolly Thresherman. Other pieces recorded as many as three times by Boult include the Fantasia on Greensleeves, and the English Folk Song Suite, one of which was by the Vienna State Opera Orchestra in 1959. The Norfolk Rhapsody No 1. was first recorded in 1953, then re-recorded in stereo in 1968 with the New Philharmonia Orchestra. Both this piece and the English Folk Suite are beautifully remastered, and the performances of ‘My Bonny Boy’ and the march ‘Folk Songs from Somerset’ are especially lovely.

Boult made two recordings of the Partita for Double String Orchestra, and the differences between the two versions are considerable: the 1956 reading has a slower Prelude than in 1975; the Fantasia is more buoyant but marred by heavy orchestration. It is the only piece here recorded in stereo, yet I found the sound less pleasing than those remastered in Ambient Stereo by Andrew Rose, which presents a warmer acoustic image. There are two versions by Boult of The Wasps, although he recorded the Overture and the March separately. This recording of the incidental music is exciting and dynamic, its pentatonic main theme clearly expressed and a hint of Ravelian influence revealed in the central Entr’actes and the brilliant March Past of the Kitchen Utensils. 

The release has a gatefold cardboard packaging with images adorning each of the two discs, one of the conductor and the other of the composer, and an informative text by James Altena about the history of the pieces and their recording. It is another triumph by Andrew Rose to mark Vaughan Williams’ 150th birth anniversary. These fascinating recordings are obligatory for collectors of Pristine’s complete RVW symphonic cycle and all lovers of English music and this great English conductor.

Gregor Tassie

Availability: Pristine Classical

Previous review: Ralph Moore (October 2022)

CD 1
1. Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (15:00)
Recorded 12 & 14-15 September 1953, Walthamstow Assembly Hall
Job – A Masque for Dancing
2. Scene 1: Introduction – Pastoral Dance – Satan’s Appeal to God –
Saraband of the Sons of God (9:55)
3. Scene 2: Satan’s Dance of Triumph (1:43)
4. Scene 3: Minuet of the Sons of Job and Their Wives (4:15)
5. Scene 4: Job’s Dream – Dance of Plague, Pestilence, Famine and
Battle (4:28)
6. Scene 5: Dance of the Three Messengers 14:56)
7. Scene 6: Dance of Job’s Comforters – Job’s Curse – A Vision of
Satan (4:47)
8. Scene 7: Elihu’s Dance of Youth and Beauty – Pavane of the Sons
of the Morning (5:27)
9. Scene 8: Galliard of the Sons of the Morning – Altar Dance and
Heavenly Pavane (5:01)
10. Scene 9: Epilogue (3:08)
Recorded 9 & 11-13 January 1954, Kingsway Hall, London
Old King Cole – Ballet
11. Introduction (3:30)
12. Pipe Dance (2:48)
13. Bowl Dance (1:22)
14. Morris Jig: ‘Go and ‘list for a sailor’ (1:24)
15. Folk Song: ‘Bold Young Farmer’ (2:11)
16. Folk Tune: ‘The Jolly Thresherman’ (1:34)
17. General Dance (6:16)
Recorded 29 September 1953, Walthamstow Assembly Hall
CD 2 (73:33)
1. Fantasia on Greensleeves (5:02)
MS English Folk Song Suite
2. 1. March – ‘Seventeen come Sunday’ (3:24)
3. 2. lntermezzo – ‘My Bonny Boy’ (3:27)
4. 3. March – ‘Folk Songs from Somerset’ (3:44)
Recorded 12, 14-15 September 1953, Walthamstow Assembly Hall
5. Norfolk Rhapsody No. 1 (10:39)
Recorded 10-14 & 29 September 1953, Walthamstow Assembly Hall
Partita for Double String Orchestra*
6. 1st mvt. – Prelude (6:27)
7. 2nd mvt. – Scherzo Ostinato (4:26)
8. 3rd mvt. – lntermezzo (Homage to Henry Hall) (4:24)
9. 4th mvt. – Fantasia (6:22)
Recorded 12-13 November 1956, Kingsway Hall, London
The Wasps (Aristophanic Suite)
10. 1. Overture (10:04)
11. 2. Entr’acte (2:58)
12. 3. March past of the kitchen utensils (1:47)
13. 4. Entr’acte (4:32)
14. 5. Ballet and final Tableau (6:17)
Recorded 28-31 December 1953 & 1 January 1954, Kingsway Hall,
All mono recordings remastered into Ambient Stereo except*, originally
recorded in stereo