Highly praised in its day, Sir Adrian Boult’s sensitive performance of Tchaikovsky’s Polish Symphony makes a welcome reappearance, here a first CD release on Decca. Sir Adrian was well known for his faithful presentation of composers’ intentions, and he consistently avoided the imposition of interpretational whims. Here is a well-played performance in very decent mono sound where forward impulse is paramount and the only changes of tempo are those required by Tchaikovsky. This straightforwardness does not mean that it is any less exciting – note the wild Polish dance that breaks out halfway through the first of the five movements, The urgent breathlessness of the Scherzo and the tension at the build-up to the conclusion of the Allegro con fuoco finale typify this lively interpretation.
Hamlet is among the earliest Decca recordings made by Boult and the LPO. The playing is excellent, the sound good for its day – though not as detailed as with the symphony. Although lacking spectacular sounds such as Napoleonic bronze cannon as featured two years later in Dorati’s best-selling Mercury version, this 1812 Overture is nonetheless a sturdy rendering – convincing in climaxes because of the excellent inner detail; Boult gives this familiar music a sense of grandeur.
At the height of his career Mischa Elman (1891-1967) recorded Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with Sir John Barbirolli and the London Symphony Orchestra, where, despite the violin’s forward balance in the 90-year-old recording, there is precision and clear detail that is not present in this Decca/Eloquence 1954 version. This is performed in a very ‘romantic’ style. Elman employs great flexibility of tempo – not Sir Adrian’s style at all yet he has the orchestra following Elman’s every interpretational whim with great accuracy, The violin is not always clear and the detached notes leading to the Finale’s coda seem to run together.
As long ago as 1962 in Music on Record Peter Gammond complained that this 1956 stereo version of Suite No.3 had not been released, but, now, after nearly sixty more years, it is at last available. Although dating from a year earlier than the Polish Symphony the sound is certainly more colourful, involving the wide stereo spread used by engineers at the time (I’d be happy to hear the return of this technique) and there is clear detailing of the wind instruments which are most graceful in the delicate Scherzo; the sound is on a par with many a more modern recording. The popular Theme and Variations movement is notable for the fierceness of the lively moments. The Suite is a most attractive feature of this release, which represents a tribute to the musicianship of Sir Adrian Boult.