Somm’s Beecham Collection continues to investigate
his legacy with tenacious intelligence. His Missa Solemnis is one of
the most rewarding of all retrievals – live from Leeds in 1937 – but
this apparently miscellaneous operatic and orchestral collection brings
pleasures of its own, though not to such an exalted degree. Not the
least important aspects of the series is its willingness to disinter
rejected and unpublished recordings long known about – Michael Gray’s
Beecham discography is a vital reference tool in this respect – but
never before heard.
Beecham brings all his accustomed vivacity and electricity
to the Smetana – which reminds us of his famous pre-war Covent Garden
performances with Richard Tauber, happily preserved and available on
CD. Note too the élan of the trumpets in the Dance of the Comedians
and the raffish sophistication of the strings. The two Verdi items are
have apparently never been on CD before so this is a welcome opportunity
to savour them, the Sleepwalking scene especially (I last saw it on
a World Record Club LP, SH1004). Grandi is a real dramatic soprano,
sometimes uncomfortably so, but exceptionally effective here (she also
recorded Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffman in England for Beecham in
1947). One of the more contentious points of the recording was the now
well-known incident in which Dorothy Bond interpolated her own high
D Flat for Grandi at the end – something of a notorious event in which
one can hear the acoustical change in the recording if one listens carefully.
The other voices heard here but not noted in Somm’s documentation are
those of Vera Terry, mezzo, and Ernest Frank, bass.
I greatly enjoyed Beecham’s way with Reznicek – vibrant,
with military brass, fluent clarinets very forward in the balance, and
some deliciously creamy violins. The BBC Symphony in excellent form.
There are three unissued performances here; the Manon Lescaut Intermezzo
and the two Wagner items. The Puccini is certainly passionate but vitiated
somewhat by poor execution, something of which attends the Act 3 Introduction
to Tannhauser, though I admired it nevertheless. Beecham could be a
Wagnerian of tremendous power and the excerpt from Das Rheingold is
a gem, one of the highpoints of this CD. Parry Jones is insinuating
and characterful as Loge and Paul Schöffler is in absolutely regal
voice, making this a commanding souvenir of Beecham’s Rheingold and
one not to be missed, especially by those yet to be convinced by Schöffler.
Of the other items the Mozart is attractive without being a stellar
performance but the Tchaikovsky is splendid.
Transfers are excellent; my booklet has unfortunately
suffered a printing mishap and two pages are blank. Much to interest
then in these immediate post-War recordings.