Since the 1970's the symphonies of RVW began to be performed more frequently and distinguished conductors undertook their own personal journeys to record complete cycles of them. Previn added an international view to set alongside a parallel collection from Boult on EMI. Then Handley, Thomson, and Hickox, through the 1980's and 1990's, re-examined these mighty works from a more modern British standpoint. And alongside the above, a fascinating cycle from Haitink gave us a refreshing and thought-provoking take on the beloved symphonies we thought we had grown to know so well.
My own personal journey had ended, so I thought, with the the Dutchman. Yet something in the back of my mind kept returning me to thoughts of a couple of old Decca 'Eclipse' LPs I'd bought, 30 odd years ago, of the 1st and 6th symphonies, conducted by Boult. I remembered more visceral performances of these pieces, good though Haitink et al had been. I took the plunge and ordered the cd's. I was right! Digitally remastered, the sound has an immediacy which hit me just as dramatically as the old vinyl did when I heard these works for the first time, over 30 years ago. But the new sound has an added clarity which reveals the huge range of orchestral nuances in these superb works.
The recordings date from the early to mid 1950's. Boult and the LPO play as if the scores are hot off the press. His soloists are on top form too. And RVW is in the studio! Just try the plagent tenderness of the 'pastoral' or the chilling intensity of the 'antartica'. No. 4 has never sounded so brutal, nor No. 5 as 'English'.
I think Boult guides us on the most rewarding journey through these greatest of twentieth century symphonies.