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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Sir Thomas Beecham conducts Beethoven
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Symphony No 6 Pastoral
Symphony No 8
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Sir Thomas Beecham
Recorded 1951/52
SONY CLASSICAL SMK89888 [68’06]


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Beecham’s Pastoral seems to have caused some considerable difficulties. It was recorded over a period of six months on no less than six days. The first part – it was recorded on shellac and tape simultaneously – ran to five takes on the first day of recording, 7th December 1951. Orchestra and conductor reconvened just over a week later for another session followed by two more on consecutive days. A further session was necessary on 5th May 1952. This was hardly a unique occurrence, given Beecham’s commitments and peripatetic nature and many others could equally be cited – the Eroica for example was begun just after the Pastoral and was similarly prolonged, with Beecham returning to edit movements one and three on 13th August 1952. Nevertheless this was a prolonged recording, the disparate nature of which is not reflected in the finished recording which evinces a geniality and easy going charm all Beecham’s own.

Elegance of phrasing informs the opening movement which is taken at a leisurely pace, and maybe one that never quite reconciles itself to optimum thematic integration. The slow movement is again slow but by no means unconscionably so – Stokowski, in his exceptionally vivid and convincing near contemporaneous recording was significantly slower still and equally maintained structural control. I particularly admire the way Beecham’s phrasing necessarily involves the subsuming of lower string material into both a cohesive sonority and a musical argument. His basses are not overblown, there is no weightiness for its own sake, and textures are light and clear. He shapes the succeeding Allegro with real finesse with abundant examples of orchestral sophistication to note, prominent amongst them the clarinet of Jack Brymer and the horn of Dennis Brain. In the final movement Beecham moulds the bass lines and sees to the apposite dynamics of the wind choirs in relation, sectionally, to the whole; the unanimity of the violins, affectionate and yielding, is delightful.

The F Major, No 8, has a deal of energy and zest, crisp - but not cursory - accents animating the opening movement. There’s also plenty of gruff wit which emerges naturally from the lines and is never overplayed. The Tempo di Minuetto is maybe rather more suave than might be the case – a little more earthiness wouldn’t have gone amiss – but there’s nothing at all wrong with Beecham’s distinguished insight into the meditative central panel of the concluding Allegro vivace, which he illumines with especial sensitivity. I enjoyed Beecham’s way with these symphonies and as his wondrous live Leeds performance of the Missa Solemnis shows there’s still much to uncover when it comes to Beecham the Beethovenian.

Jonathan Woolf


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