Few world-premiere recordings convey a greater sense of occasion or such abundant recreative flair than Sir Edward Elgar’s own November 1931 account with the LSO of his Falstaff. In fact, it’s a piece of history in more ways than one, for this was the first major venture to be recorded at Abbey Road’s Studio No 1, and the mind boggles that the first four 78rpm sides of such an entrancingly malleable and illimitably compassionate document were safely captured by the microphones despite the presence of a media circus. Another pioneering recording that continues to set the benchmark in so many ways is Ralph Vaughan Williams’s legendary October 1937 recording of his own Fourth Symphony. With adrenalin levels quite extraordinarily high for a studio project, it’s a reading of seismic impact, overwhelming in its cumulative energy. What’s more, the composer draws some thrilling playing from Sir Adrian Boult’s hand-picked BBC Symphony Orchestra.
Other orchestral firsts I would not want to be without include Václav Talich’s miraculously pliable and searingly communicative 1952 version of Suk’s Asrael with the Czech PO, Serge Koussevitzky’s noble Boston SO Harris Third (1939), Karel Ancerl’s superb Czech PO Martinů Sixth (1955) and Leslie Heward’s electrifying Hallé Moeran Symphony in G minor (1942).
I’ve long held a deep affection for Fauré’s adorable First Violin Sonata – and Jacques Thibaud’s sublime July 1927 rendering with Alfred Cortot in particular – and continue to be infatuated with Lotte Lenya’s matchless delivery of ‘Seeräuberjenny’ in the first (abridged) recording from 1930 of Weill’s Die Dreigroschenoper. Decca’s 1954 Britten/Pears Winter Words is another incredibly special document: it would be a hard heart indeed that did not respond to ‘The Choirmaster’s Burial’ or ‘At the Railway Station, Upway’. And for an artists’ recorded debut, let me urge immediate investigation of the Elias Quartet’s hugely eloquent, intrepidly characterful Mendelssohn anthology (Quartets Nos 2 and 6) from 2007.