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Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
Le Corsaire Op.21 (1844-55) [7:58]¹
Symphonie fantastique Op.14 (1830) [47:05]²
Le Carnaval Romain Op.9 (1843) [8:31]³
Les Troyens: Marche troyenne (1856-59) [3:48]º
Le Roi Lear Overture, Op. 4 (1831) [11:28] º
Paris Conservatoire Orchestra/Charles Munch, recorded in La Maison de la Mutualité, Paris, June 1948¹
Concertgebouw Orchestra/Eduard van Beinum, recorded in the Grote Zaal, Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, September 1951²
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Victor de Sabata, recorded in Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London, May 1946³
London Symphony Orchestra/Hamilton Harty, recorded at Decca’s Thames Street Studios, London, October 1935º
BEULAH 1PD30 [78:55]
 
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The prize here is Beulah’s sonic restoration of van Beinum’s 1951 recording of Symphonie fantastique. The conductor and his Concertgebouw orchestra made something of a habit of recording it. There were two Deccas, one in 1946 and this one, and two recordings made in wartime, which necessarily saw limited circulation. I’ve heard neither of these but both Deccas are superbly accomplished, the 1951 recording in particular, and it sounds well in its upholstered guise. It’s a moot point as to which is the more exciting and attractive performance, the 1946 or the 1951. I do think the phrasing of Un bal is a shade more sympathetic in 1951 but then again I think the earlier recording shades it fractionally in the opening in terms of sheer grip and excitement. True the Amsterdam strings do sound a touch papery - but the ear adjusts – and for all the vitality of the reading one will still find that Munch and Monteux offer, at times, even greater vitality. But for those who want a sole example of van Beinum’s way with this work, this will do very nicely.

It’s not on its own. There’s the 1948 Paris recording of Le Corsair with the local Conservatoire Orchestra under Charles Munch. The strings here really are a bit desiccated but Munch watchers will like to note that he takes, to the second, the same tempo as he took in his celebrated 1958 Boston performance. Victor de Sabata gives a panache-attended performance of Le carnaval romain  - vivid and exciting. And then we have two examples of the famous, if small, Berlioz discography left by Hamilton Harty. It’s probably best not to gnash at the loss of a recording with Harty and Tertis in Harold in Italy. Tertis always said that the finest performance he gave of that was with Harty. We have to make do with what we have. Beulah has plumped for the Marche troyenne and Le roi Lear Overture. These celebrated sides were set down in 1935 and still sound good; the producer was Walter Yeomans.

With a fine centre-piece this programme has been planned with care and attention to detail. If the sound in a couple of the tracks is undernourished then that’s more a reflection of the prevailing recordings, not of Beulah’s restorations, which are honest and gutsy.

Jonathan Woolf 

 

 


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