“There was no one to touch him, in my opinion; he’d have gone a very long way, if he had lived.” Thus Sir Adrian Boult on his fellow countryman Leslie Heward (1897-1943), whose prodigious talents are nowhere more evident that on his very last, and surely greatest, project, namely this magnificent 1942 recording with the Hallé of Moeran’s epic G minor Symphony. This is a gorgeous score, strongly indebted to Sibelius, Elgar and Bax, full of the most ravishing nature music and quite breathtakingly evocative of the wild seaboard of south-west Ireland which the composer so adored. Its sizeable dimensions undoubtedly require a firm hand on the tiller; in this respect, it’s perhaps the veteran Boult (on his cherishable 1973 Lyrita account with the New Philharmonia) who holds Moeran’s edifice together with the surest symphonic grip, but even so he has to bow to Heward in terms of sheer dedication, elemental fire and pantheistic atmosphere.
Moeran, who attended the sessions in Manchester’s Houldsworth Hall, was understandably ecstatic about the finished article: “The Symphony has had such a performance as it never had before.” Alas, five months after the completion of this pioneering recording, Heward ( A lifelong chronic asthamtic) was struck down by tuberculosis. Restorer and annotator Andrew Rose has achieved impressively full-bodied and refined results from the original HMV shellacs (surface noise is remarkably low), while the couplings, a truly wonderful account of the String Trio (Set down in May 1941 by a “dream team” comprising Jean Pougnet, Frederick Riddle and Anthony Pini) and five songs characterfully delivered by John Goss and Heddle Nash, are just as successful.