German-born Georg Henschel, later the English-adopted Sir George, must have been something of an earlierday Leonard Bernstein: he was a composer, a conductor, a pianist, and – something the peripatetic Lennie could not claim – an illustrious baritone, well known for his portrayal of Hans Sachs in Die Meistersinger as well as top drawer lieder recitals. Brahms took him under his valuable wing as a young man, sharing with him his thoughts on the inevitable unconscious germination of creative ideas which, as Virginia Woolf so characteristically quipped, can drop from outer space as quickly as a billiard ball into a pocket, and he also taught young Georg how to swim underwater with your eyes open, so you can see the coins you want to scoop up as subterranean trophies.

Still answering to Georg, Henschel in his conducting mode was picked up by Major Higginson to become the first music director of the Boston Symphony in 1881. A bit inexperienced, the 31-year-old came rightly or wrongly under intense critical fire, one scribe reporting that thanks to Henschel’s apparent impetuosity he’d been “roasted in a furious aural conflagration.” And clever ones of course called the new conductor “Eggschel.” But a correspondent for a safely distant New York music journal reported: “The musicians are very fond of their leader, and thoroughly dislike the naughty critics, when they find fault with him . . .” Evidently Henschel was something of a pre-Stokowskian tinkerer with orchestral seating: a class picture of his Boston Symphony shows it positioned in an odd arrangement which Brahms supposedly approved of, half the cellos and basses at the left facing the distant brethren of their sections on the right, with the violas between . . . and one cello and bass have been banished way upstage to the left, in mirror image so to speak with the timpani and tuba.

Henschel left Boston and this stereophonical configuration after three seasons, England and singing gigs beckoning. Then, outside of his frequent happy appearances in the memoirs of the composer-feminist-eccentric Ethel Smyth, we lose track of Sir George for some years until, thankfully, he entered a recording studio one day in 1926 and left us with Beethoven’s First Symphony with the old Royal Philharmonic. (A pity there’s no recording of the First Symphony by Henschel’s underwater swimming consultant as well!).

The greater part of the opening movement, labeled by its composer allegro con brio, has brio all right but of a stately sort: Henschel’s is a broad and dapper view, here’s the clubman symphonist who might have hobnobbed with Henry James. His relatively slow and rather suspenseful tempo, not much varied in the exposition, is an all-purpose instrument permitting with scant adjustment rich embracings of the pastoral duet of oboe and flute (the second subject this, at measure 53) as well as the juicy spot a couple dozen measures on in which cellos and bassi step down to the music’s basement — or is it some fascinating recess of its soul? — only to have a lovely minor-mode oboe appear seraphically suspended above.

Beethoven’s recapitulation begins fortissimo rather than piano, giving way to newly yawning winds, and Henschel sees the drama here – the music has evolved. Soon he’s weighting down his tempo, adding POWER. The slow movement is leisurely for an andante cantabile con moto but buoyant and strong, it ardently pleads its case. Next a slyly humorous menuetto, then a finale in which another unhurried tempo brings a delightful panache, as if the music — Beethoven wrote allegro molto e vivace — were marked pomposo e leggiero.