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The Beecham Collection
Ferruccio BUSONI (1866-1924)

Concerto for Piano and Orchestra
Noel Mewton-Wood (piano)
BBC Menís Chorus
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham
Recorded live in broadcast at BBC Studio No. 1, Maida Vale, London, January 1948
SOMM-BEECHAM 15 [68.56]

Previously unissued this Busoni release in the Beecham Collection makes an effect every bit as electrifying as Sommís earlier 1937 Leeds Missa Solemnis. What is even more remarkable is that Beecham only conducted two works by Busoni during his career; a single performance of the Violin Concerto in D with Alma Moodie and the Piano Concerto of which he gave two performances on successive evenings with Noel Mewton-Wood. By some grim alchemy both these Australian soloists were suicides Ė Moodie in wartime Berlin and Mewton-Wood in London in 1953. And to further the connection Moodie was a pupil of Carl Flesch one of whose leading pupils, Max Rostal, was Mewton-Woodís last sonata partner.

It was a busy time for Beecham in January 1948. On the third and fourth he performed the Busoni alongside Haydnís Symphony No. 103. On the fourth he was also in the studios with his newly formed Royal Philharmonic recording Mozartís Symphony No. 27 and the Divertimento K131 and, nothing daunted, from the fifth to the tenth he put on Gounodís Faust. Even so the Busoni performances were remarkable and reunited Beecham with the soloist whose London concerto debut heíd conducted eight years earlier when Mewton-Wood was seventeen. As for the young Australian he was to record Busoniís Second Violin Sonata with Rostal but otherwise this is the only example of his coruscating playing of the composerís music.

Itís not immediately clear from which performance this recording derives or whether there has been some patching from both. There are the inevitable ticks and pops and a ration of surface noise but in the main the sound is remarkably well focused and has a necessary clarity to it. Certainly listening pleasure is not remotely impeded by the non-commercial circumstances of the recording. As for the performance, it is simply blazing. More even than that it is notably well argued architecturally, the edifice falling securely into place and perhaps doing something to refute the (in some quarters) renewed view of Beecham as an epicene miniaturist incapable of handling symphonic or concerto form. This misguided generalization is shown here in Beechamís handling of the orchestral part to be more than usually commonplace. He brings out a significant amount of textual detail, right from the powerful sense of direction he imparts to the Introduction, and the ensuing bass line and wind cantabile are etched with superb refinement and sympathy. The thunderous outburst at 8.10 is matched by equal conviction, as is the scintillation of the Pezzo giocoso. Mewton-Wood and Beecham treat the long slow movement with apt understanding of both its eruptive and determined profile, its ever changing sense of direction; the pianistís dramatic virtuosity here and Beechamís marshalling of wind counterpoint is superb.

Thereís great clarity in the Allíitaliana tarantella with crisp rhythm and vivacious trumpets. Inevitably Mewton-Wood is not finger-perfect but in a live performance at such a frequently incendiary tempo (some of it is really fast) this is not simply unsurprising but also inconsequential. I should also note that the animated humour at the end of this movement and the charming phrasing are entirely winning. In the Cantico finale Beecham draws upon the hymnal mysticism inherent and though the choir is somewhat lugubrious nothing can dim the fires of the triumphant conclusion.

This is playing that pianistically speaking can be measured against that of Egon Petri and though enough (near) contemporary recordings exist to lure the ear (Hamelin, Ohlsson, Ogdon et al) this exceptionally rare survivor deserves the widest possible scrutiny and admiration.

Jonathan Woolf


You might also be interested in the August recording of the Month and Gramophone Critic's Choice:

Mewton-Wood plays Twentieth Century Piano Concertos
Arthur BLISS (1891-1975)

Piano Concerto (1938-39) [37.36]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)

Concerto for piano and wind instruments (1924) [20.06]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)

Concerto for piano, trumpet and strings Op. 35 (1933) [21.08]
Noel Mewton-Wood (piano)
Harry Sevenstern (trumpet) (Shostakovich)
Utrecht Symphony Orchestra (Bliss); Residentie Orchestra, The Hague (Stravinsky); Concert Hall Symphony Orchestra
Walter Goehr (conductor)
rec. 1952 (Bliss, Stravinsky); 1953 (Shostakovich). mono. ADD
Transferred by Bryan Crimp from LPs drawn from the collection of Robert Milnes
Financial assistance from the Bliss Trust
Originally issued as Concert Hall LPs: CHS1167 (Bliss); CHS1160 (Stravinsky); CHSH4 (Shostakovich)


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