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A Superb Anthology of Sir Adrian's Art
on 9 August 2012
In his day Sir Adrian Boult tended to be somewhat overshadowed by Beecham, Barbirolli and even Sargent. This was probably due to the fact that he was not in any way a flamboyant or charismatic conductor as these others were. He also tended to be regarded as a conductor who concentrated on the music of English composers, particularly Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Holst, all of whom he knew well and, in the case of Vaughan Williams and Holst, were friends. His repertoire, however, was immense and extremely varied and was built up, particularly during his years as conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra from 1931 until 1950, when he was expected to do anything.
After recording much music by English composers for EMI he turned to Austro-Germanic repertoire almost by accident. In August 1970 there was time to spare at the end of six days of sessions recording Elgar and Vaughan Williams, and this was used to record Brahms's Third Symphony and Tragic Overture. This was so successful that he went on to record, not only the other three symphonies and other works by Brahms, but most of the other works included in this superb new set from EMI: music by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert and Wagner. All of these met with considerable acclaim when they were issued, especially the four LPs of music by Wagner. In his review of the first of these the renowned critic and musicologist Deryck Cooke wrote, "I have never heard Sir Adrian Boult conduct Wagner before, and I suppose that most people, like myself, never thought of him as a Wagner conductor at all; but on this record he reveals himself as a 'perfect Wagnerite'".
When these recordings were made Sir Adrian was in his eighties, but you would never think so; everything is so fresh and alive. The recordings also have the advantage of a conductor who had spent more than half a century thinking about and performing this music which he loved.
Many will be familiar with the Brahms, Wagner and the Schubert Great C Major, a work in which Sir Adrian was unsurpassed. They may not have heard, however, his accounts of the Brandenburgs. I am glad that these have been included in this box, and not only because they are a curiosity, performed as they are in the style that the young Boult heard at the beginning of the twentieth century from conductors such as Nikisch and Steinbach. Sir Adrian was not interested in the so called authenic approach to baroque music and may actually have made these recordings almost as a protest, although he was far too much of a gentleman to say this. He did say to the producer Christopher Bishop that he was "tired of chopped-up Bach"! He uses what sounds like all the strings of the LPO in these performances, but the result is never heavy sounding nor congested; quite the reverse.
Here is a list of the works in this superb anthology of Sir Adrian's art:
Bach: Brandenburg Concerti 1- 6
Mozart: Symphonies 35 & 41; Overture, The Magic Flute
Beethoven: Symphony No.6; Coriolan Overture; Ruins of Athens Overture and Turkish March
Schubert: Symphony No.9
Johann StraussI: Radetzky March
Suppe: Poet and Peasant Overture
Wagner: Overtures, Preludes and Orchestral Excerpts from Rienzi, Der Fliegende Hollander, Tannhauser, Lohengrin,
Tristan und Isolde, Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg and The Ring, Siegfried Idyll
Wolf: Italian Serenade
Brahms: Symphonies 1-4, Serenades 1 & 2, Overtures, Haydn Variations, Alto Rhapsody (with Dame Janet Baker)