ELGAR Symphony No 1; In the South – Boult
As Elgar himself said to the young Boult after a triumphant performance of the Second Symphony in 1920 – till then neglected – ‘I feel that my reputation is safe in your hands’‚ and so it was. Boult was the first conductor to follow up Elgar’s own pioneering recordings of the two symphonies‚ No 2 in 1944 with the BBC Symphony Orchestra‚ followed by this present account of No 1 in 1949‚ issued first on shortplaying 78s‚ and then in 1953 on LP.
The first wonder of this very welcome transfer from Testament is the astonishing quality of the sound‚ mono only but fullbodied and finely detailed to give a keener sense of presence than the rather disappointing CD transfer of the 1976 stereo version‚ with a surprisingly wide dynamic range for a 1949 recording. When Boult recorded that final stereo version‚ he was already 87‚ and though as ever the reading is a noble one‚ beautifully paced‚ it has nothing like the same thrust and tension as this recording of nearly three decades earlier. In particular the heavenly Adagio has an extra meditative intensity in the way that Boult presents each of the great lyrical themes‚ pure and poignant in their beauty. The finale in particular has a bite and thrust far beyond that of the later account.
What yet emerges from a comparison of both of Boult’s readings with Elgar’s own of 1931 is the extra warmth and freedom that the composer allowed himself. His is a more passionate approach than Boult’s‚ allowing himself markedly more rubato in the slow movement and varying the tempos more freely in the emotion of the moment. As in the Second Symphony‚ nobility is a keynote to the Boult interpretation‚ clearly a valid alternative to the more emotional‚ more volatile approach of the composer.
Boult’s recording of In the South‚ made in 1955‚ brings out his thrustful side even more strikingly‚ with urgent speeds giving way in the lovely Canto popolare section to a honeyed beauty – George Alexander the superb viola soloist – before an urgent yet finely controlled account of the coda. Sadly‚ the 1955 sound is shallower than that of six years earlier for the symphony‚ though there is ample weight for the brass theme of the second section. Helpfully‚ Testament provides separate tracks for the four sections. A splendid addition to Boult’s legacy on disc.