Boult: Beethoven Ovs Leonore No. 3, Egmont, Coriolan - Amadeo ARVS 6203

$7.00 USD

Amadeo (LP)

Jacket VG / LP EX / German pressing

This handsome LP from Amadeo (AVRS 6203, German pressing, red/silver label, stereo) features a license of Sir Adrian Boult’s Vanguard recordings of four Beethoven Overtures, made with the “London Philharmonic Promenade Orchestra” (in fact, the LPO) circa 1957.

The exact contents are as follows, with timings shown in parenthesis:

Leonore Overture No. 3 Op. 72 (14:40)

Overture to Fidelio Op. 72c (6:02)

Overture to Egmont Op. 84 (8:50)

Coriolan Overture Op. 62 (7:00)

Of a Vanguard Classics 2CD re-issue of these performances, the outstanding critic Christopher Howell wrote for MusicWeb-International:

Maybe a complete Beethoven cycle was also projected, but only four symphonies and four overtures were set down. To judge from the present reissue, it would have been a notable achievement. Apart from these Vanguard sessions Boult recorded few Beethoven symphonies. There was an 8th with the BBCSO on 78s, there is a recording of the 1st and there was another of the "Eroica" that I know nothing about. His late "Indian Summer" period with EMI only produced a further "Pastoral". The BBC Legends series has so far made little attempt to investigate the biggest BBC legend of all.

“Those who have been protesting recently about the iniquity of issuing records with pseudonymous orchestras might be amused to note that for many years the doyen of British rectitude had no difficulty in appearing on record as the conductor of the "Philharmonic Promenade Orchestra", on Pye-Nixa as well as on Vanguard. This was because his own London Philharmonic Orchestra was contracted elsewhere. However, this is a rather different matter from plagiary, since the orchestra that played was the one that got paid. And as for deceiving the public, most people knew what the "Philharmonic Promenade Orchestra" was anyway.

“It doesn’t sound like that any more. What was originally a rather recessed sound in an acoustic like St. Pancras’ Station is now revealed, particularly over headphones, as an upfront, rostrum-view recording. The strings have brilliance and you can hear the rasp of their bows as they dig into Beethoven’s many sforzandos. The wind have character – the oboe is unusually pungent for a London player – and the brass have great impact. It doesn’t sound entirely natural, but it is exciting. Over loudspeakers the sound polarizes rather, the violins well to the left, all the brass and lower strings crowded around the right-hand speaker.

The lower strings? Yes, this is an aspect which puzzled me, and the Amadeo LP was the same. Boult was famous for having his second violins on the right and his cellos in the middle, as was normal in his younger days. He allowed himself to be talked by Richard Itter into accepting the "modern" arrangement when recording the Elgar symphonies for Lyrita, and it looks as though the Vanguard team persuaded him here. In view of the polarization between speakers I did wonder if this is just electronic jiggery-pokery with a mono recording, but the positions of the instruments seem too definite for that. In the trio of the 5th Symphony’s 3rd movement, where the strings enter fugally, from the lowest to the highest, each entry can be heard to the left of the previous one, quite definitely, both times. And yet … sometimes you get a blast of high strings coming out of the right-hand speaker. Strange.

“’Coriolan’ is another example of Boult’s Beethoven at its tautest, and "Leonore no.3" is perhaps even more than this. Boult was a rare visitor to the opera house, but he did conduct "Fidelio" occasionally and in the later stages of the overture his usual objectivity gives way to an unexpected narrative ability. The coda had seemed to me a little sedate in the Amadeo version, but hearing it more vivid sound I realize that Boult is relating it to the final scene of the opera, jubilant rather than urgent.

“Boult’s ideal in Beethoven was probably Weingartner, whose lean orchestral sound and objective approach he made his own. Onto this he grafted certain features derived from Toscanini – the whiplash accents and fierce articulation – though without going to extremes. He admired Furtwängler and was a personal friend of Bruno Walter but was never attracted by more romantic methods. These performances show that a Boult cycle would have held up its head in exalted company. If he had been given the opportunity to return to this music late in life, we would have had better recording and more repeats – the first movement of the "Eroica" and the finale of no.5 lack them. But, as the ups and downs of his late Brahms cycle show, it is perhaps to these 1957 recordings that we would have to return to hear his Beethoven at his best.”

There are authoritative liner notes on the reverse side of the jacket by Karl Löbl, printed in German only. The striking cover art is uncredited.




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