Sir Adrian Boult conducts Berg: Wozzeck (complete); Stravinsky: Capriccio; Vaughan Williams: Symphony No 4. Heinrich Nillius, Suzanne Danco, Noel Mewton-Wood, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Royal Opera House Orchestra. © 2023 SOMM Recordings


A Window into the Glories of the Past

GEOFF PEARCE listens to Adrian Boult conducting Berg, Stravinsky and Vaughan Williams

'... truly inspired performance.'


I was tempted to write this review because I have long been captivated by the Vaughan Willams symphony and also with Wozzeck since I first heard it whilst at university. Noel Mewton-Wood is also a pianist I was impressed with and I have long been an admirer of Sir Adrian Boult. Sound wise, these recordings show their age, but I was interested in them for their historical value and I was not disappointed.

Listen — Berg: Street before Marie's room (Wozzeck Act I Scene 5)
(ARIADNE 5024-2 CD1 track 5, 0:00-0:48) ℗ 2023 SOMM Recordings :

I have heard Wozzeck by Alban Berg a few times over my life, and I regard it as one of the most important works of the twentieth century. This was based on Georg Büchner's revolutionary fragmentary texts of Woyzeck (1837) and the opera received its first performance in 1925. The story describes the abuse and tragic deterioration of the soldier Wozzeck who lives in poverty along with his wife Marie and their child. He is taunted by his superiors, his wife sleeps with the drum major, and the downward spiral unravels the poor man's mind. As madness takes Wozzeck, he murders his wife and then drowns himself. All in all, it is a very sordid and sad tale, but the music reflects this in a quite unique way and is one of the greatest works to come out of the Second Viennese School.

Listen — Berg: Street in Town (Wozzeck Act II Scene 2)
(ARIADNE 5024-2 CD1 track 7, 4:00-4:40) ℗ 2023 SOMM Recordings :

The cast is strong, and here I would single out for mention Suzanne Danco who made a wonderful Marie, and also Heinrich Nillius as Wozzeck. The orchestra is also up the high demands placed on it, and, as I said, the recorded sound itself shows its age, but I would not let that deter you.

Listen — Berg: Forest Path by a Pool (Wozzeck Act III Scene 4)
(ARIADNE 5024-2 CD2 track 4, 0:35-1:20) ℗ 2023 SOMM Recordings :

This is followed by an interesting BBC interview with Sir Adrian Boult recalling his time at the BBC and the formation of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. I found it most fascinating.

The 1948 recording of Stravinsky's Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra features the very gifted but short-lived Australian pianist Noel Mewton-Wood.

Listen — Stravinsky: Presto (Capriccio)
(ARIADNE 5024-2 CD2 track 8, 3:59-4:50) ℗ 2023 SOMM Recordings :

Again, as one would expect, the sound recording shows its age and is in mono. I do not believe it has been digitally enhanced, and I am pleased it was not. This was not a work known to me, but the pianist was clear and played with great aplomb and precision. This recording would have swayed me to buy the disc. It is a rarity.

Listen — Stravinsky: Allegro capriccioso ma tempo giusto (Capriccio)
(ARIADNE 5024-2 CD2 track 10, 0:13-1:12) ℗ 2023 SOMM Recordings :

Lastly comes a work that is dear to my heart: the Vaughan Williams Symphony No 4. In spite of it being severe and grim in nature, with a few patches of sunshine, I have loved this piece since I was a boy, and had heard this recording many times.

Listen — Vaughan Williams: Allegro (Symphony No 4)
(ARIADNE 5024-2 CD2 track 11, 4:37-5:15) ℗ 2023 SOMM Recordings :

The notes accompanying this recording give Boult's take on why this work is so grim - I cannot think of another word - and I was interested as I always found his recordings compelling. The symphony is in four movements. I have heard very few recordings as convincing as this one, perhaps because Boult was a personal friend of Vaughan Williams and a champion of the composer's music. It was a little more restrained than some recordings, which are positively demonic.

Listen — Vaughan Williams: Andante moderato (Symphony No 4)
(ARIADNE 5024-2 CD2 track 12, 7:49-8:31) ℗ 2023 SOMM Recordings :

It was also a live recording of the 21 July 1945 Promenade concert and featured the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden. It is not free from blemishes but, nevertheless, to me was a truly inspired performance.

Listen — Vaughan Williams: Scherzo (Symphony No 4)
(ARIADNE 5024-2 CD2 track 13, 0:00-0:43) ℗ 2023 SOMM Recordings :

The symphony was dedicated to Sir Arnold Bax, and found admirers very quickly - particularly Sir William Walton and Benjamin Britten.

Listen — Vaughan Williams: Finale (Symphony No 4)
(ARIADNE 5024-2 CD2 track 14, 6:49-7:39) ℗ 2023 SOMM Recordings :

Enjoy this set of recordings as a window into the glories of the past, with a conductor who, in the mind of the public at least, was an exponent of British music of composers like Vaughan Williams, but was not thought of as an adventurer. That is selling him very short.

Copyright © 8 December 2023 Geoff Pearce,
Sydney, Australia



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