Friday, September 5, 2014

Suk: Serenade (Boyd Neel)

Cover restored by Peter Joelsen
Perhaps no musician in the 20th century was more responsible for generating interest in the vast repertoire of music for chamber orchestra than London-born Boyd Neel (1905-1981). Trained as a doctor, he yearned to conduct, and to this end formed the Boyd Neel String Orchestra in 1933 by recruiting seventeen string players - 11 violins, 2 violas, 2 cellos and 2 basses - from various London music schools. From 1934 the orchestra recorded copiously for English Decca, including the complete Handel Op. 6 concerti grossi, and gave a boost to young Benjamin Britten's career by commissioning (and recording) his first recognized masterpiece, the Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge. The war years curtailed their activities a bit, but not completely. One of their first recordings after Decca's introduction of the "ffrr" recording technique was this charming 1892 Serenade by the eighteen-year-old Josef Suk, composed under the influence of his mentor Dvořák:

Suk: Serenade in E-Flat, Op. 6
Boyd Neel String Orchestra conducted by Boyd Neel
Recorded July 6 and September 25, 1944
Decca set EDA-66 (AK 1209 through AK 1211), three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 60.30 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 41.40 MB)

This is one of about 120 sets imported into the USA and issued in an album series (the records made in England, the albums manufactured in America) between early 1947 and mid-1949 by American Decca, Late in 1947, British Decca began importing its popular series directly to the USA on the London label, then by May of 1948 was importing semi-classical (Léhar, Eric Coates, and the like) 12-inch issues here on London even as American Decca was importing the heavier classics! A May 1, 1948, article in Billboard magazine states that "according to a London spokesman, the [new semi-classical] series will in no way conflict with the deal between London's parent firm (English Decca) and American Decca for the latter to distribute English Decca classical wax here exclusively." But American Decca must have seen the handwriting on the wall, for the beautifully designed covers they had been using for the EDA series (samples of which can be seen here and here) soon gave way to more generic ones like the one pictured above. By the summer of 1949 London Gramophone Corp. (as it was then called) was importing all English Decca product, including the new LPs.


  1. getting Server Load Too High on file factory all the time

  2. an iconic piece for string orchestra and an iconic conductor/orchestra as well: many thx for that post.