Symphony No.4 in E minor, Op.98
Symphony No.4 in A, Op.90 (Italian)
BBC Symphony Orchestra [Brahms]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Sir Adrian Boult
Recorded in Royal Albert Hall, London – Brahms on 8 August 1975, Mendelssohn on 29 July 1972
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: January 2013
CD No: ICA CLASSICS ICAC 5093
Duration: 64 minutes
Although placed second on the disc I started with the ‘Italian’ Symphony. Claimed to be in stereo, initially the effect is rather monophonic. Although more ‘spread’ becomes apparent, albeit somewhat to the left (thus neglecting the antiphonally placed second violins), the positioning of the double basses remains vague. Sonic limitations aside, Sir Adrian Boult gives a master-craftsman’s account of Mendelssohn’s beguiling work. Tempos are well-judged, with the shape of the piece (save for the omission of the first-movement exposition repeat, deftly excised, it must be said) and turns of phrase satisfyingly realised. The music is played with character. The gap between the first two movements is too short.
Inscribed on the cover as “a Boult rarity”, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Boult had recorded the ‘Italian’ Symphony just a few years prior to this Royal Albert Hall performance – for World Record Club (an off-shoot label of EMI) with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the other side of the LP containing the same composer’s E minor Violin Concerto with Maureen Smith as the soloist. Neither of these recordings has reached CD, and Boult had previously recorded the ‘Italian’ in the mid-1950s, which has had a ‘silver disc’ release.
With the Fourth, ICA Classics is close to completing its Brahms symphony cycle conducted by Boult in his ‘Indian summer’ (links below); only No.2 is required to reach the finishing post. In this Fourth, for all that the BBC Symphony Orchestra is recessed in a huge space and the sound is not as alluring as one would expect from a 1970s’ BBC relay – indeed it is quite spiky, wiry and treble-biased at times – the performance is typically wholesome, Boult always in understated control, artless, penetrating and assured as well as dynamically and expressively modulated.