> Sir Thomas Beecham conducts Beethoven [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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

Symphony No 3 Eroica
Coriolan Overture
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham
Recorded 1951 and 1952 (Eroica) and 1953 (Coriolan)


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The Eroica wasn’t as problematical a recording as the Pastoral. Beecham and the RPO went into the recording studios on 20th and 21st December 1951 returning in August 1952 to cover some edits of the first and third movements. He conducted the Eroica at least forty times during his career and it was, in fact, the last Beethoven Symphony he was to conduct, in Chicago in 1960. It goes without saying that the RPO is on splendid form with particularly notable contributions from Jackson, McDonagh, Brymer and Brooke and there is a pervasive sense of alluring tonal beauty throughout, though not a preening one.

There is a real sense of articulated clarity in the opening movement, especially in the strings. Tuttis are never saturated, the orchestral weight never becomes heavy, with the basses subsumed into the string patina – this is certainly not a Germanic "bass-up" performance; sonorities are equable, accents are often adroitly cushioned, second violin entries always audible and full of character. It’s certainly not the quickest of first movements and doesn’t quite possess the blistering concentration of symphonic weight that some of his contemporaries would generate from the score. It is nevertheless full of incident and imagination. The Marcia funebre is proportionately sized; it possesses weight and seriousness but not Brucknerian depth. Beecham’s performance perhaps amplifies something that Neville Cardus wrote when he noted that Beecham had "rid the music of nineteenth century weightiness and tonal gestures supposedly earth-and –heaven shattering."

His rhythmic acuity and impetus is the means by which, instead, he conveys thematic causal connections, how he generates motion through almost imperceptible rubati. There is a generous fluidity to his music making here but not one that aspires to the unshakeably monumental. This applies especially to the Scherzo – though this is rather more Allegro than the modified Allegro vivace as marked. The finale is ruminative, measured and whilst rhythmically supple occasionally fitful. Oboist Terence McDonagh shines here especially but all the principals are superb. No overwrought sonorities impose themselves in Beecham’s conception, which is serious and understated and never superficial. Coriolan is full of elegance and dynamic gradients, vigorous orchestral exegesis and drama, and admirable. Notes are once more by Graham Melville-Mason. I like the photographs of a Beecham variously avuncular, amused, thoughtful and pensive; it complements his Beethoven enshrined within.

Jonathan Woolf


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