> The Beecham Collection: Handel - Beecham [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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The Beecham Collection
Georg Frederic HANDEL (1685-1759) – Thomas BEECHAM (1879-1961)

Suite de Ballet – The Origin of Design
The Gods go A’Begging
Piano Concerto

Betty Humby Beecham, piano
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Sir Thomas Beecham
Recorded 1932-49
SOMM-BEECHAM 7 [74’52]


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A small admission. In the interests of critical objectivity I listened to this disc three times and took copious notes. Then I threw them away and listened again for the sheer pleasure of it. The vast bulk of the CD is made up of previously unissued material. There are two, differing suites of material from The Gods Go A’Begging, one with the RPO in 1949 and the other with the pre-War LPO dating variously from 1933-38. The Piano Concerto is from 1945. The only previously issued pieces are the majority of that earlier LPO Gods Go A’Begging suite. These Handel-Beecham arrangements were something of a staple of his recording and performing career and gathered from various sources for ballets and orchestral suites. They are, without exception, even to a generation saturated with Handelian opera, delightful and imaginative works teeming with the kind of orchestral felicities that make this disc so vital and alive.

The disc is a series of examples of conductorly élan and instrumental panache. Look no further than the early Origin of Design – the clarity of the woodwinds in the Rondeau, the oboes’ chatter and the violins’ interior voicings. Or the Minuet – massed strings, but proper balance and articulation are maintained with sectional phraseology of the finest especially the affecting middle voicings of the strings. A couple of thumps on this side – previously unissued of course – have been well minimised and are of no account. Beecham introduces some pizzicato games in the Scherzo but he gives the strings their head in the succeeding Sarabande. Part of this side had been badly damaged – too much so to issue commercially – and so the undamaged part only has been issued. Enough remains to listen to the most extravagant use of portamento in the entire disc – precise but pervasive and deliberate. The veiled tone of Beecham’s newly formed LPO can be heard in the Musette and the conductor whips up a veritable hurricane in the Battaglia and Finale. The Gods Go A’Begging is majorly commercially issued performances but a couple of the movements have never before been released. All are in excellent sound. Needless to say there are instances variously of dramatic incision (Introduction), sinuous bassoons (Fugato) delicious sensitivity (Minuet) – one of the highlights this, with superb string/brass balancing, pizzicato-accompanying oboe figure, the sheen and delicacy of the violins. Those yet to be convinced might like to sample the linearity of string playing in the Musette or the solo lines in the Minuet – where flute and trumpet shine – and those who remember Beecham’s celebrated rejoinder on the subject will be amused to find a conspicuously audible harpsichord in the Gavotte.

The Piano Concerto was written for Betty Humby Beecham and she gave the first performance in New York in 1944. It’s a sizeable four-movement 24-minute confection. There is tremendous rhetorical flourish in the opening, very grand and persuasive Chaconne – and also sensitive exchanges between soloist and orchestra, variously playful and reflective. The Romanza is rather mysterious and withdrawn with the oboe’s caressing figure coursing through it and the chocolate brown strings lending weight to its air of tristesse. The Minuet is oddly pensive and reluctant and very slow until warmed up by the strings whereas the finale is a steady and avuncular affair with a somewhat weak ending. One can but admire Beecham’s persistence in stitching together the work. The 1949 Gods Go A’Begging suite consists of six movements played by the newly formed RPO – instrumentally vivacious and sharing qualities consonant with the playing on the entire CD. And previously unissued.

With good notes by Graham Melville-Mason and high production values this is a CD of almost limitless pleasure.

Jonathan Woolf


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