Elgar
In the South (Alassio) – Concert Overture, Op.50
Symphony No.1 in A flat, Op.55
London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Boult
CD No: TESTAMENT SBT 1229
Duration:
Reviewed: May 2002
Posterity has judged that these two recordings are the finest of all those Sir Adrian Boult made of these works. Unfamiliar with them until now, I heartily agree!
That both are in mono – the symphony recorded in 1949, In the South in 1955 – does rob us of Boult’s use of antiphonal violins (so important in this music); yet both readings are so involving and purposeful that it matters little.
In the South receives a performance at once organic and vividly characterised. Similar concerns for architecture inform the symphony but without denuding the music’s aching refrains, lyrical asides, filigree detail and powerful emotions.
The recording of the symphony was made shortly after the BBC had enforced retirement on Boult. That these studio sessions bristle with an extra edge may well have something to do with the shenanigans of BBC protocol. Even so, Elgar’s score is not showered with anger or bitterness; there’s just that something extra – a sweep, fire in the belly attack, and expressive turns that are just that little more heartfelt.
Throughout both pieces, Boult’s formal mastery and his depth of understanding are keenly balanced. In the South is exuberant and trenchant, also luminescent in the ’Canto popolare’ section that enjoys a touching viola solo from George Alexander (also some fine horn playing from the unnamed principal). (After this rendition, it’s easier to place Gardiner’s new version!) Of the symphony, Boult finds militaristic menace in the ’Scherzo’ (lasting the booklet’s 7’ 01” rather than the back cover’s 8’ 00”) and personal asides in the segued ’Adagio’, the latter both tender and revealing, the pianissimo passage (from 9’ 01”) a natural release of the most eloquent feelings.
In the outer movements a sense of development and eventual reconciliation informs every bar; the ’Finale’, with a glorious account of the noble outpouring from 6’ 15”-7’ 12”, culminates in a coda resplendent and triumphant, the opening motto tune, so unaffectedly introduced by Boult, now a blazing peroration. These are classic performances by one of Elgar’s greatest interpreters that enshrine Boult’s devotion and honesty.

 

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