Boult conducts Elgar on Testament

0 of 5 stars

In the South (Alassio) – Concert Overture, Op.50
Symphony No.1 in A flat, Op.55

London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Boult

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

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&#146s formal mastery and his depth of understanding are keenly balanced. In the South is exuberant and trenchant, also luminescent in the &#146Canto popolare&#146 section that enjoys a touching viola solo from George Alexander (also some fine horn playing from the unnamed principal). (After this rendition, it&#146s easier to place Gardiner&#146s new version!) Of the symphony, Boult finds militaristic menace in the &#146Scherzo&#146 (lasting the booklet&#146s 7&#146 01” rather than the back cover&#146s 8&#146 00”) and personal asides in the segued &#146Adagio&#146, the latter both tender and revealing, the pianissimo passage (from 9&#146 01”) a natural release of the most eloquent feelings.

In the outer movements a sense of development and eventual reconciliation informs every bar; the &#146Finale&#146, with a glorious account of the noble outpouring from 6&#146 15”-7&#146 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&#146s greatest interpreters that enshrine Boult&#146s devotion and honesty.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content