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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Sir Thomas Beecham conducts Wagner
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)

Der fliegende Holländer – overture
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

  • Introduction to Act III
  • Dance of the Apprentices
  • Entry of the Masters
Parsifal – Good Friday Music
Gotterdämmerung
  • Siegfried’s Rhine Journey
  • Funeral Music
Lohengrin – Prelude to Act I
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Sir Thomas Beecham
Recorded 1951-54
SONY CLASSICAL SMK89889 [60’34]


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This is probably the finest of the four Sony Classics reissues of Beecham’s American Columbias of 1951-54. It has all Beecham’s admirable qualities of rhythm, melodic contour, elegant phrasing and passionate generosity and no mannerisms whatsoever to impede the linear movement of each chosen piece. Firstly however the matter of recording dates. The bulk was recorded in 1954, the Prelude to Act I of Lohengrin in 1951. Two pieces, the Funeral Music from Götterdämmerung and the Good Friday Music from Parsifal are noted as having no available recording dates. They were however part of the series recorded by Philips for American Columbia en bloc during December 1953 at Walthamstow Town Hall – and the Philips’ session sheets have since been destroyed, only the Artists’ Files at Columbia’s New York headquarters surviving.

Beecham’s last Wagner opera at Covent Garden was Die Meistersinger in 1951 though he continued to give sporadic Wagner evenings in the concert hall (1953, 1956 plus a half of a concert in 1958). His recordings here show, as do all these extracts, an accustomed level of eloquence and orchestral sophistication. They maintain a fruitful balance between heated engagement and finesse and one moreover that never slides into either glib grandiloquence or false gravity. Strings are searingly active in the Dance of the Apprentices, Beecham shaping orchestral diminuendi with practised authority and insight; listen to the lower string counter-theme at 2’01 for an example of clarity of line and appropriate weight of application. And the Entry of the Masters shows his vigorous but not over-emphatic sensibility toward Wagner as a whole. He may have been looked down upon as a less than philosophically engaged Wagnerian over the years but this is to misunderstand utterly the conductor’s Wagnerian aesthetic which recoiled against the elevation of the Pagan in Wagner.

Pellucid strings animate the Good Friday Music, red-blooded brass course through the overture to The Flying Dutchman, orchestral strands are at all times audible and animated in the Funeral Music from Götterdämmerung, translucent violins flicker and fleck the final almost silent bars of the Prelude to Act I of Lohengrin. This is not mere panache, not mere orchestral frivolity; this is conducting of judicious understanding of the emotive and technical requirements of a particular structure from a particular work. In all these extracts Beecham is wonderfully responsive and I strongly recommend his work here as an example of a frequently overlooked component of his conducting – his sheer musical intelligence.

Jonathan Woolf


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