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4.5 out of 5 stars
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4.5 out of 5 stars
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on 13 January 2010
First the bad news. Despite having a sticky label emblazoned with"Digitally Remastered at 96kHz" on the box cover the recorded sound appears (to my middle-aged ears) identical to that on the old Belart re-issues of the mid-1990s. This means that upper frequencies are often thin with an unpleasant ting or ziz to the sound. To make matters worse, on occasion, one has the aural equivalence of listening to the performance while looking down the wrong end of a telescope, with a constricted dynamic range to the sound stage and general lack of body to the sound. While FFRR (full frequency range recording) technique used by Decca in the early 1950s was lauded in its day as peak of realism, these recordings could benefit from some serious intervention of the kind given by Pristine Audio and Dutton Laboratories and that does not appear to have occurred here.

Despite this grouch the vast majority of buyers will be drawn to the `classic' status of these performances. Those who know Boult from his later EMI recordings (of these works and others) might be in for a bit of shock. The Adrian Boult of the late 1940s and early 1950s was not yet a `grand old man' but a highly experienced conductor capable of generating enormous thrust and dynamism from his orchestra, yet this is allied to a peerless grasp of symphonic structure. Listen (for example) to the opening of `A Sea symphony' to get some idea of this. From the opening B flat minor brass fanfare, followed by the choir singing Behold, the sea... Boult achieves a tremendous sense of onward momentum yet he never loses sight of the movement's proportions so that when this phase returns in the major its impact is quite overwhelming.

While Boult brings these qualities to the whole cycle some performances inevitably stand out. My list would not differ substantially from other reviewers here. The `Sea', `London', `Pastoral' and Fifth symphonies are practically definitive. No other conductor captures the enormous feeling of loss embodied in the slow movement of the Pastoral (V-W's real war symphony) like Boult. To this I would add the eighth symphony; how well Boult gets it to work as a symphony.

Let downs? The sixth is only a weak performance if you judge it by the lights of the world premier recording Boult made for HMV (in much better sound). Here, a slightly less than devilish approach to the scherzo is the only weakness for me. In the fourth, Boult seems to baulk at the demonic nature of the music, something which V-W certainly did not do in his 1937 recording with the BBC Symphony. (In Boult's defense, who else has got within haling distance of the composer's own interpretation?). The ninth could have done with another rehearsal. Finally, I am unconvinced by the spoken additions to the Sinfonia Antartica (wonderful as it is to hear John Gielgud) and would look to Bernard Haitink to give full measure to this still underrated work.

To sum up five stars for Boult and his fellow musicians but keep an eye out for other transfers now that these recording have fallen out of copyright.
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on 18 August 2010
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.
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Like reviewer Patrick Miller listening to this set was a revelation, I also found Boult's later EMI set somewhat tame.

Possibly it was the composer's presence (except for Symphony 9 due to his death seven hours before the session) that inspired Boult and the London Philharmonic to play the music as if had only just been written, the freshness of the long established works is wonderful.

The "Gramophone Magazine" reviewed most of these recording in April and May 1954 with glowing enthusiasm.

However this recording of the Symphony 6 does not eclipse the recording Boult made following the first performance in 1947 where the players are challenged by a slightly faster speed and the difficulty and excitement of playing a major new work. I recommend having both.

Theses fine performances are captured by Decca's finest mono sound engineering in the incomparable acoustics of the Kingsway Hall.
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on 22 February 2008
These are the performances of the symphonies against which all others must be measured. Boult was associated with RVW throughout his life, being present at the premiere of A Sea Symphony in 1910, later conducting the first perfomances of the 3rd, 4th and 6th symphonies, and of course recording these in 1952, 1953, 1956 and 1958, all in the presence of the great man [except for the 9th, as other reviewers have mentioned - though RVW was actively planning to attend the recording in Walthamstow Town Hall on the night of his death]. I grew up with Boult's later EMI recordings, which I still love, and Previn's and Haitink's cycles are also superb, but there's something special about this set. Still sounding wonderful, despite the years, this is the one I turn to most. The 5th has never sounded more radiant.
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on 22 April 2004
I have long enjoyed Sir Adrian Boult's EMI recordings of these symphonies,but I had always heard that his earlier Decca recordings were more "alive"and the fires burned brighter on those. I missed them the first timearound on CD, and when I walked into to record shop and saw this boxsitting there, I couldn't resist. I don't see this listed on the US Amazonsite, so I wonder if this was some kind of import. Anyway, it has been arevelation. The VW symphonies have always seemed kind of elusive to me inrecordings. No one conductor ever seemed to hit the nail on the head onall nine. For me anyway, Boult did it here. I'll hang onto his EMIrecordings for sentimental reasons, but I think they'll be on the shelffor a while...
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VINE VOICEon 10 August 2003
Although these recordings come from the 1950s they offer the most satisfying listening experience of all. Sir Adrian Boult was, in my view, the greatest proponent of the music of Vaughan Williams and this set provides a unique insight into the varied landscape of the symphonies.
Furthermore, the composer was in the studio when these recordings were set down (or in the case of the valedictory Ninth, the recording was made a few hours after the composer's death on 26th August 1958)
Another great thing about this set is that it actually includes the Ninth Symphony which was originally recorded by the American Everest label rather than Decca (as in symphonies 1-8)
When this set was released by Belart only symphonies 1-8 were included. Decca have also included Boult's tribute to Vaughan Williams, in a short speech before the recording of the Ninth Symphony and also the composer's endearing tribute to Boult and the orchestra at the conclusion of the epic Sixth Symphony. The performance of the Sixth Symphony has in fact never been bettered, a truly legendary account.
All the performances are excellent but those of A Sea Symphony, A London Symphony, A Pastoral Symphony and symphonies 5,6 and 9 are absolutely terrific.
Don't be put off by the age of the recordings as the transfers are excellent.

Not to be missed!

[added 31st December 2012 - 'Begun in 1952 to mark Vaughan Williams's 80th birthday, this is still the best complete cycle on disc, capturing performances of searing urgency and rare spiritual power'. Gramophone Magazine, January 2013 in a tribute to Sir Adrian Boult by Geraint Lewis ]
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on 23 July 2013
I adore Vaughan Williams. He was overlooked in the 50s and 60s because the establishment thought he embellished folk songs and they thought that that was cheating. They overlooked that the work involved in using a theme (which every composer starts with) and then weaving melodies into it. He manages to write symphonies of beautiful melody that have a sublime joy of life in them. It is great value and has a good sound.
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on 21 June 2014
Great set, well worth the £4.49 I paid for it. Of course, the let-down is that the sound-quality isn't up to modern-day standards - in particular, the treble is too pronounced, so the strings are rather tinny & edgy & slivery, & the bass isn't thunderous - but it's quite acceptable overall, I think, for the price. But it's not all downside, since, with a less-voluptuous string-sound, the detailed inner-workings of the woodwind & brass are clearer & brighter, & these are very precious to RVW - in other sets & in concert, these essential details sometimes get drowned-out by the massed ranks of all-enveloping strings (RVW isn't Brahms). Performances are very good - the 6th is really tumultuous & downright angry, the 5th serene & inwardly-concentrated, & so-on. So, 5 stars in principle, minus a star for the sound. But still worth it.
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on 11 July 2011
There are moments of magic such as the slow movement of the 2nd symphony where you can almost smell the smog and damp of an autumn dusk in a London square. I'm not too convinced by the quality of the playing in the 3rd Symphony and the 4th I think was a bit of a blind spot for Boult but it is still better than most performances. In the 5th symphony there are some dodgy moments for the LPO brass in the scherzo. The 6th symphony is a triumph and is really raw and aggressive, a real contrast to Boult's Philharmonia version in the 60's. This has bite and a sense of purpose. I agree with other reviewers about the spoken narrative in the 7th i.e. there's no need for it. For the 8th compare and contrast this version with the recording by Barbirolli and the Halle. Both are similar but Barbirolli tends to tinker with the music where Boult just lets it unfold. The 9th is still waiting for a definative reading in my view. VW was ahead of all of us in this work and we have not yet caught up with his vision.
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on 29 January 2012
Having long loved the Vaughan-Williams music I knew well (The Lark Ascending, Thomas Tallis etc) I decided to explore some of his (to me) less familiar work. I have found some real treasure here. I particularly love the Pastoral and the 5th Symphony. I think this is a really good collection and very good value. There is something to suit practically every mood here. It would be hard to find anyone who does such fabulous harmonies. Vaughan-Williams is becoming my favourite composer.
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