Adrian Boult conducts the first vinyl Belshazzar's Feast
Walton's choral masterpiece in a superb transfer and remaster
Some ten years after composer William Walton conducted the first
recording of his oratorio, Belshazzar's Feast [available here as
PACO017] , Sir Adrian Boult made this, the first recording for LP issue,
on the Nixa label. For contractual reasons, the original orchestra was
credited as the "Philharmonic Promenade Orchestra" - the British
Library's Sound Archive Catalogue has corrected this to the London
The recording was issued in 1954, at about the same time as HMV released a transfer of their 78rpm recordings on LP for the first time. However, it was clear that purely in terms of sound quality, the new recording easily outshone its shellac equivalent, and within a few years Walton was back in the EMI studios setting down a stereo recording.
When we released Walton's recording I was unaware that Peter had also transferred and remastered the Boult recording a short while earlier. I decided to test the Pristine Audio Natural Sound technique with the Boult as I had all the necessary files on my system fresh from their earlier use. To both Peter's an my surprise the sound of the Nixa recording was transformed, and we're delighted to offer this superb recording with this additional restoration.
Boult's recording was very well-received - this is the review in The Record Guide of 1955 (which gave it a double-star, their highest accolade):
"The text of this oratorio was selected and arranged from the Book of Isaiah by Sir Osbert Sitwell. There is some beautiful and quiet choral writing near the opening of the work, but the rhythmic ferocity of the finale recalls the first movement of the [first] Symphony. The piece is a tour de force, and when adequately performed (as in this set) it is irresistibly exciting. Considering the high dynamics, and the weight of the combined orchestra and chorus, the Nixa recording of this strenuous work is a considerable engineering feat. The HMV SP set (now deleted) made a sensation in its day (1943) and still sounds remarkably well; but we think it was stupid of the company to attempt the transfer of this recording to LP, for the result is deplorably bad - a mere adumbration of the original. The singing of the LPO choir lacks something of the thrilling attack of the Huddersfield singers; but all in all the Nixa recording is a splendid achievement. "
WALTON Belshazzar's Feast
Recorded at Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London, 10 September, 1953.
Originally released at Nixa LP NLP 904.
Transfer and digital remastering by Peter Harrison at disk2disc,
with further Natural Sound processing by Andrew Rose, March 2007.
Dennis Noble, baritone
London Philharmonic Choir
London Philharmonic Orchestra
conducted by Sir Adrian Boult