The 1956 Nixa: Westminster stereo recordings Volume 1

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Britten,Elgar,Walton
LABELS: First Hand Records
WORKS: Walton: Symphony No. 1; Elgar: Falstaff; Symphony No. 2; Cockaigne Overture; Britten: The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (mono and stereo); Four Sea Interludes & Passacaglia; Rossini/Britten: Matinées musicales; Soirées musicales
PERFORMER: London PO/Adrian Boult (narration)
CATALOGUE NO: FHR06 ADD mono/stereo Reissue (1956)

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In August 1956, Adrian Boult was working like a demon in the recording studio, and this set goes back to the original Westminster stereo tape masters where possible – earlier UK issues were sometimes available only in mono.

It’s amazing to hear Britten’s Rossini arrangements for the first time in colour: performances are bright and breezy, though the Sea Interludes and Passacaglia are dimmer in sound, and rather underpowered, with a decidedly limp ‘Storm’.

The mono version of The Young Person’s Guide, with Boult’s narration, is supplemented by the unadorned stereo mix. Again, the performance lacks the glitter that we expect from this showpiece, and it’s a pity that space couldn’t be found for the rehearsal sequence which was issued in America.

Boult’s on more familiar ground in the Elgar works: the Symphony No. 1 is nearer to the dynamic BBC Symphony Orchestra version from 1944 than the magisterial LPO taping of the mid 1970s, and the sound is an improvement on previous CD incarnations, with a wide stereo image, though still a little dry and boxy.

That’s something which seems better in Cockaigne, and even more so in Falstaff, where Boult makes the sometimes episodic structure of the music compellingly coherent.

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The Walton Symphony also comes up more brightly than previously: it’s an intensely rhythmic performance, though accents could be sharper, especially in the scherzo. But the slow movement builds surely and passionately, and the finale comes as the cumulation and catharsis that it should be. Martin Cotton