Think of Sir Thomas Beecham and the composers who more
readily come to mind are: Delius, Mozart, Berlioz, Richard Strauss and
Sibelius. But he was equally enthusiastic about the Russian composers.
In fact he gave the first European performance of Rachmaninov’s Third
Symphony with his London Philharmonic Orchestra in November 1937. Balakirev,
Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky appealed to him the most. In
fact, his EMI recordings of the Balakirev Symphony No. 1 and Rimsky-Korsakov’s
Scheherazade are classics of the gramophone.
All the pieces on this album are, of course, in the
colourful hedonistic tradition of Scheherazade. The mono sound
might be dated, the strings a bit wiry, the percussion somewhat lumpy
in places but there is no denying the excitement and immediacy of these
live performances; the RPO responding enthusiastically to Beecham’s
firmly controlled yet passionate direction. The Symphony, full of oriental
splendour, shimmers seductively in the wonderfully atmospheric scherzo;
and the perfumed languor of the Andante, redolent of nights in the harem
under the stars, is very persuasive. Rimsky-Korsakov’s Golden
Cockerel Suite is slightly disappointing in comparison – the
vivid colours seem muted, the flow a bit laboured. The concluding war-horse,
Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances complete with choir, charges forth
A rewarding disc for Beecham fans.