In the stereo era, Sir Adrian Boult became associated even more strongly than before with the music of English composers – Vaughan Williams, Holst, and Elgar, in particular. EMI recorded him in other repertoire as well, but this was the exception, not the rule. Surprisingly, some of his monaural and early stereo recordings from the 1950s are becoming easier to find. Once again, it is possible to appreciate Boult's breadth, as well as his depth.
Boult's relationship with Berlioz on disc goes back to the 78-rpm era, when he made records of Les Francs-Juges, Rob Roy, and Le Carnaval Romain with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. (These have been reissued by Dutton Laboratories.) The present recordings date from 1956, however, which puts them just barely in the stereo era. The engineering is variable. As remastered and reissued by ReDiscovery, some of the overtures are noise-free, while others (for example, King Lear) are accompanied by a (very tolerable) layer of rumble. Also, the volume levels probably could have been matched better; some tracks are noticeably louder than others.
Originally, these recordings were on the Nixa and Westminster labels. At least on the latter label, the LPO's nom de disque was the Philharmonic Promenade Orchestra, probably for contractual reasons. Here, the orchestra is correctly identified.
Boult's Berlioz has been compared to Monteux's, which is high praise indeed. Boult, however, could not get the transparency of sound out of the London Symphony that Monteux achieved even with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, although one can hear him making efforts in that direction. (Perhaps the original engineering got in the way.) Furthermore, the Orchestra's intonation isn't always up to snuff; brass and woodwinds can be a little sour. On the other hand, the basic sound is sinewy, even muscular, but never "buff," so Boult and the London Symphony score points there. Boult is a lively conductor, with a good ear for the music's color and architecture. Furthermore, he is sympathetic to its Romantic fancies.
Others might disagree, but I don't think that several of these overtures are top-drawer Berlioz. King Lear, in particular, has its longueurs. Apparently Berlioz thought well of it nevertheless. In contrast, although Berlioz discarded Rob Roy, it is interesting, to me at least, because it contains material he later reused in Harold in Italy, which is a masterwork. Les Francs-Juges also is infrequently heard today, and I can't say that I mind!
Perhaps this is not an indispensable disc, but it will be of interest to those who are curious about what Boult's conducting sounded like when he was younger. This CD-R is available only from www.rediscovery.us. The $15 cost includes shipping.
Copyright © 2007, Raymond Tuttle