Years ago, at a second hand record store, I got an LP re-release of Toscanini’s 1936 recording of Beethoven 7th Symphony with the NBC Symphony orchestra. I was delighted, especially with the final movement, which seemed to me to be dizzyingly swift. A few days later I was pontificating about this to a musician friend and he responded dryly that if it was taken at a brisk tempo, it was probably just the record company getting the right timing for the number of discs involved. This ended my lecture, of course, but I still thought that it was a terrific recording.

But speed is not something I necessarily look for in a Shakespearean narrative poem. It does indeed seem as if the readers are racing breathlessly through Venus and Adonis in order to fit the poem onto the space available (along with some extras – some of introductory material from the First Folio, including the intro by Heminge and Condell and the Poem by Ben Jonson, also read at top speed). It’s amazing that they were able to blast through and still give some shape to the speeches and provide some rudimentary emotional shading. But the experience of listening to this is not pleasant; there’s no lyricism and not much beauty in the recording. Irene Worth manages a heart-felt rendition of  Venus’ speech on the death of Adonis (should I use spoiler alerts in Shakespeare?), but I get the feeling she has little time to do more than make the best of a bad situation; she and narrator George Rylands sound shrill and harsh, at odds with their material and the second hand on the clock.

On the plus side, this recording has one of the more beautiful of Arthur Wragg’s wonderful album covers. These were a definite bonus for those who bought the LPs.

Venus and Adonis read by George Rylands, Irene Worth and Ian Lang. First Folio Introductory Material read by Peter Orr (?) and Michael Hordern (?)


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