Saturday, 29 December 2012

Adrian Boult in Brahms

I would never have believed it: listening (for pleasure) to four Brahms symphonies in one day? It came about because I sampled the first symphony (conducted by Adrian Boult, in the 11-CD monster box I acquired recently). I enjoyed it so much that I went on the the second symphony ... and the third … and the fourth.

It all shows the value of serendipity when one buys these incredible bargains. Boult has never really figured in my pantheon of major conductors. I enjoyed his traversal of the Bach Brandenburgs (in this box) immensely. His Brahms is sane: organic, free-range, no added ingredients, no conductors' whims or follies. Brahms, the whole Brahms, and nothing but the Brahms. The recorded sound (1970-2) is rich and really well done; during that period, EMI had some of the best recording engineers around. The orchestral playing is good (London Philharmonic in all but the third symphony, where the LSO takes over. The sound of the LSO is noticeably less full and less rich than the LPO of that period). All in all, an excellent set of the Brahms symphonies. Boult has risen rapidly in my esteem. He was never an international figure and, in so far as I am aware, never conducted outside England. There again, many major musicians chose not to join the international circuit and remained admired figures in their native lands. Adrian Boult was born in 1889 in Chester, so by the time these recordings were made he was well into his 80s. Remarkably, he shows no signs whatsoever of the elderly conductors' disease of slowing down (e.g., Klemperer) or speeding up (e.g., Toscanini). Over the 16 movements of these four symphonies I found not one movement where I had doubts concerning Boult's chosen tempo. Remarkable.

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