is a case of three in one. A box set of Beecham’s Haydn containing
the later symphonies and The Seasons is usually divided
into two symphonic collections, symphonies 93-98 and 99-104
and The Seasons; though the latter only in the LP
era. Matters are somewhat complicated because Somm has already
issued The Seasons under their Beecham imprimatur,
its first ever CD release, on Somm-Beecham 16-2 (see review).
This is the form in which I reviewed it here back in 2004
for ease of reading I’ve interpolated my comments into this
text. There’s very little between the transfers; either is
Symphonies have received CD transfers of course and were
long LP staples whether in single, or gatefold style. Plenty
of performance practice water has flowed under the bridge
and you will not look to the bold Bart’s corrupt late nineteenth
century editions for any kind of fidelity. We may as well
get the problems out of the way here and now. Repeats are
largely eschewed; brass and percussion parts will not be
recognisable in some passages, since there are illicit insertions.
Dynamics and orchestration, the harpsichord in Symphony No.98
(missing) and rocking cadential passages – these will all
arouse ire in some breasts. Tempi can veer between slow and
stately and, in some finales, rocket-like. Not a Scherchen
dichotomy, exactly, but a decidedly individualistic take
on tempo relationships. So all this and more may count against
Beecham. The Salle Wagram was not an ideal studio acoustic
and those who have heard the rehearsal snippets from this
location will know that rain also played its part, though
fortunately not when it came to the master tapes. Muddiness
however certainly did and the engineers never quite managed
an optimum string/brass balance. So all these factors will
weigh in the balance.
you’d have to be a terrible old stuffed shirt not to enjoy
so much that is here. Listen to the care over wind balances
in the first movement of No.98 or its warm cantabile slow
movement. Yes, there are moments of over-nuanced string phrasing.
I happen to find the Adagio cantabile opening of the Surprise rather
over done, very much in the manner of his late Mozart symphonic
recordings, with too much fussing and prodding. We know how
assiduous Beecham was in marking parts, in blue-pencilling
string phrasing; his affection sometimes led him to focus
on a particular phrase rather than a longer line. Still the
same symphony has an especially grand seigniorial Andante – auburn
cellos and a properly audible percussion.
the main the slow movements are taken at a stately tempo – as
in the C minor No.95 – and Minuets are imbued with a pomposo
element, very Beechamesque in fact. Swagger is never far
away. The Miracle, once launched, erupts brilliantly.
The grandiose adagio introduction to No.98 is a treat with
its slow movement one of the most generously moving of the
entire set - though characteristically he pushes hard in
the finale. Buoyancy informs the later symphonies with No.
99’s slow movement wonderfully sustained. The Clock brings
out his finery and wit, his fine sense of timing and projection.
If the Minuet of No.102 seems far too slow Beecham does at
least carry the conviction of his tempo to the bitter end
and almost makes you capitulate. The final two symphonies
are primarily notable for his remarkable sense of lyricism
and poeticism, for the grandness of his conception, the security
and excellence of the execution and the life affirming humanity
of Beecham’s perception – the trio of No.104 is truly gorgeous.
recording of The Seasons has not received as much
critical attention as have his recordings of the Symphonies.
This is the second ever CD reissue of this 1956-58 set (essentially
1956 but with patching sessions in March 1957 and April 1958).
There are a number of Beechamesque idiosyncrasies; a 43 bar
cut in the orchestral introduction and added bells and cymbals
and percussive effects generally in Summer are noticeable
as are the added huntsman's shots in Autumn. But the
most obvious feature is Beecham's orchestration of the keyboard
accompanied secco recitatives. He applied an analogous approach
in his recording of Schumann's Manfred when he orchestrated
Schumann's piano music to fit into the fabric of the score.
can be heard from the live Berlioz that has emanated from
around this time Beecham could still marshal large forces
with verve and panache - and driving power into the bargain.
Haydn was a favoured composer and though he seems only to
have given one complete concert performance of The Seasons (Edinburgh,
1950) he did conduct isolated movements of the years; The
Creation was invariably played more often. Beecham is
on affectionate and sympathetic form throughout, relishes
the twinkle-tinkle little star tune in Simon's Air Now
fairly runs the farmer's boy (this is an English language
performance), and moulds the Trio and Chorus in Spring
Be now gracious with notable acumen. The orchestra is
commendably rustic when required, the trombones flaring marvellously
in the final Chorus and Trio of Spring, the hunting horns
decisive and animated in Summer (No 12), flutes piping in
the same movement's Recitative for Lucas’s The midday
sun. We have a real sense of anticipation and dynamism
in Lucas's You beauties of the Town (No. 27 - Autumn),
a splendid drone effect in the Chorus Cheer Now! And
plenty of lyric phrasing in Here stands the wand'rer now (No.
16 - Winter).
Chorus is sometimes rather sluggish; listen to the men in
their very first outing Come, gentle Spring when Spring
takes quite some time coming, but otherwise sing stoutly
and even nobly. Of the three soloists Elsie Morison takes
the highest honours. Alexander Young was an estimable singer
of course and his Handel memorable but he's not always quite
steady - as in the recitative in Winter At his approach.
Michael Langdon's voice tends to spread, an effect noticeable
very early on in Spring's recitative From Aries rolls
maybe it’s time to consolidate your disparate Beecham-Haydn
into one handy slim box. It won’t take up much space and
will provide a lifetime of pleasure, excitement, enjoyment,
bewilderment and bravura.
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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