Symphony No.3 in F, Op.90
Symphony No.1 in A flat, Op.55
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Sir Adrian Boult
Recorded in Royal Albert Hall, London – Brahms on 6 August 1977, Elgar on 28 July 1976
ICA CLASSICS ICAC 5063
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A generous and apt coupling: the Third was Elgar’s favourite Brahms symphony and Sir Adrian Boult was a great champion of both composers. These performances from the BBC Proms find Sir Adrian in great form, inspiring the BBC Symphony Orchestra to playing of power, beauty and sensitivity in accounts of unvarnished truth and deep eloquence. In his ‘Indian Summer’ he may have been, but Boult (1889-1983) belies his octogenarian status with readings of these masterworks that are virile, shapely, wise, poetic and viewed whole.
It’s surprising to read in his booklet note that Martin Cotton suggests Boult’s tempo for Brahms’s first movement is “a little slow”, for it has impulse and energy – it really shouldn’t go any faster and Boult convinces that he has the tempo giusto , which embraces the commanding motif that opens the work and also to seamlessly turn into the second subject. Boult observes the exposition repeat and does so with further intensification. The second movement though might seem a little on the quick side, even for an Andante, yet Boult always has the measure of the music, not least when broadening the expression, such as when within sight of the close, and a similar stratagem is at play for the intimacies of the following Poco allegretto. This is an unsentimental reading that nevertheless captures all of Brahms’s majesty and autumnal longing, and is crowned by a measured finale that is unerringly modulated and passionately dug into, before serenity is ultimately won. Fine though Boult’s LSO recording of Brahms 3, made for EMI a few years earlier, this live version, issued for the first time, reaches greater heights.
Boult commercially recorded Elgar’s First Symphony three times (the Second had five studio outings under his long baton), the last, with the London Philharmonic, set down a few months after this Royal Albert Hall concert. Again, invaluable as those documents are, this Proms account really is quite special, and thrilling. It has had CD life before, as a BBC Music Magazine cover disc, and it’s good to now have it permanently available.
From first note to last, this is a corking performance, Boult and the BBCSO in accord and completely identifying with this most moving and magnificent of symphonies. Again, Boult has the music’s complete measure. Once past the opening introduction, ideally the Andante nobilmente et semplice that Elgar requests, Sir Adrian sets some blistering tempos, but without ever making them seem brusque or cavalier, and, as ever, he knows just when to acquiesce without losing sight of the overall blueprint. Such authority continues into a white-hot scherzo that enjoys reverie at its centre, and then a flowing slow movement which blossoms like a rare orchid (maybe Colin Bradbury is the confiding clarinettist) to steal the listener’s innermost sensibilities. The finale, stealthy and glowing, ends in triumph and receives a big Proms ‘roar’ – not always justified, but certainly on this occasion.
So, this is a treasure-trove of ‘late’ Boult captured on the wing and in excellent stereo sound (not least for vividly capturing those all-important antiphonal violins, a Boult trademark and so apposite for this music – what Brahms and Elgar knew and wrote for). Unmissable!