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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
The Tempest Op. 109b,c (1926) [29.27]
Richard ARNELL (b.1917)

Punch and the Child Op. 49 (1948) [21.24]
Lord BERNERS (1883-1950)

The Triumph of Neptune - suite from the ballet (1926) [24.43]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (Sibelius; Arnell)
Philadelphia Orchestra (Berners)
cond. Sir Thomas Beecham
rec. Nov 1954, Walthamstow Town Hall (Sibelius); 31 May 1950, Kingsway Hall, London; 3 Feb 1952 (Arnell); Academy of Music, Philadelphia (Berners). all mono


Both Sony UK and Sony France are still big hitters in the reissue market. The London satellite has wrought wonders with their exhaustive Beecham series. The wonder is that they did not number the volumes like Supraphon's Ancerl Gold edition.

The present collection offers some very special Sibelius. The fourteen pieces from The Tempest show the highest interpretative skills in animating character and vivid colouring. Beecham is in a class of his own. The Oak Tree (tr.2) captures the almost inhuman otherworldliness and mesmeric-soporific strangeness of the music in a way not captured by others. It is by any measure an extraordinary piece matched with Beecham's acute percipience and expressive powers. Similar qualities radiate from Chorus of the Winds (tr.7). Listen to the precise yet flexible pizzicato in Scène (tr.5). Wrenching violence is also well within Beecham's grasp as we can hear in Intrada - he clearly relishes the contrasting water-colour delicacy of the linked Berceuse. Beecham brings out the Handelian grandesse of Prospero (tr.10 strangely listed as 20 in the insert) but is matchless in the tender Miranda (tr.12). The Storm movement relentlessly chills to the bone and the final chord hits home with a satisfyingly squat and accurately simultaneous 'whump' - as convincing as the squat note at the end of RVWs BBCSO recording of the Fourth Symphony.

Comparing this Sibelius with the Beecham Edition disc CDM 7 63397 2 the sound seems to have a beefier aspect and is recorded at a marginally higher level. The hiss, while still a presence on the Sony, does not have the same eminence as on the EMI disc. Comparing Boult's 1950s Everest/Omega recording of the Prelude Boult takes the storm at impetuous speed and goads the LPO to the edge of their technique. I also fished out the Vänskä complete Tempest music (Bis CD-581); all 36 episodes. To my surprise this was a softer focused version which in The Storm has neither the Golovanov-like vertiginous quality of the Boult (comparable section in the Prelude) nor the colossal terrifying gravity of the Beecham. This Beecham version is something that no true Sibelian should be without.

The Berners' ballet suite The Triumph of Neptune has been recorded in modern times in good stereo by the RLPO conducted by Barry Wordsworth as well as in the Marco Polo Berners series. It is a piece of balletic fluff, jocular and light-hearted. The references include Bax's Tamara ballet and Picaresque Comedy and Rogues' Comedy overtures, Vaughan Williams' music for The Wasps, Barber's Souvenirs, even a touch of Stravinsky's Pulcinella and Strauss's Bourgeois Gentilhomme. The sincerely poetic Frozen Forest acts as a relief from the predominance of high gloss levity. The Philadelphia are polished and ebullient.

Arnell had a lifelong association with Beecham. Arnell's Landscape and Figures was a Beecham commission in 1956 at the Edinburgh Festival and in 1986 he contributed his Ode to Beecham (orator and orchestra) to the celebrations of the fortieth anniversary of Beecham's founding of the RPO.

The Arnell ballet Punch and the Child is, sadly, the only commercial representation of a composer partnership that dated back to their joint times in New York in the early and mid-1940s. Punch and the Child was a commission by Lincoln Kirstein's Ballet Caravan. This is Arnell jocular, brilliant and neo-classical with a scathing edge approximating partly to Bliss, partly to Copland and Rawsthorne. There are some superbly calculated textural effects in both Hector, the Dummy Horse and Punch and the Devil.

Beecham has a grand reputation for lollipops. What we have here is thirty-two lollipops - some soporific and some belligerently enlivening.

The recordings are mono. The notes, by series regular Graham Melville-Mason, are all you could hope for.

Rob Barnett

see also review by Jonathan Woolf

Sony Beecham CBS Edition


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