> The Beecham Collection - Operatic and Orchestral Excerpts [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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The Beecham Collection. Operatic and Orchestral Excerpts
Bedrich SMETANA (1824-1884)

Bartered Bride – Overture, Polka and Dance of the Comedians *
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)

Macbeth – Act 2 La Luce Langue *
Act 4 Gran Scena del Sonnambulismo *
Emil REZNICEK (1860-1945)

Donna Diana Overture #
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)

Manon Lescaut – Act 2 Intermezzo #
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

La Clemenza di Tito – Overture +
Peter I TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Eugene Onegin – Act 2 Waltz +
Act 3 Polonaise +
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)

Tannhauser – Act 3 Introduction *
Das Rheingold – entrance of the Gods into Valhalla * ^
Margherita Grandi, soprano *
Edith Furmedge and Margaret Field-Hyde sopranos, Gwladys Garside mezzo soprano, Nancy Evans contralto, Parry Jones and George Chitty tenors, Paul Schöffler baritone ^
BBC Symphony Orchestra #
Recorded 1945-47
SOMM-BEECHAM 9 [73’45]


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Somm’s Beecham Collection continues to investigate his legacy with tenacious intelligence. His Missa Solemnis is one of the most rewarding of all retrievals – live from Leeds in 1937 – but this apparently miscellaneous operatic and orchestral collection brings pleasures of its own, though not to such an exalted degree. Not the least important aspects of the series is its willingness to disinter rejected and unpublished recordings long known about – Michael Gray’s Beecham discography is a vital reference tool in this respect – but never before heard.

Beecham brings all his accustomed vivacity and electricity to the Smetana – which reminds us of his famous pre-war Covent Garden performances with Richard Tauber, happily preserved and available on CD. Note too the élan of the trumpets in the Dance of the Comedians and the raffish sophistication of the strings. The two Verdi items are have apparently never been on CD before so this is a welcome opportunity to savour them, the Sleepwalking scene especially (I last saw it on a World Record Club LP, SH1004). Grandi is a real dramatic soprano, sometimes uncomfortably so, but exceptionally effective here (she also recorded Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffman in England for Beecham in 1947). One of the more contentious points of the recording was the now well-known incident in which Dorothy Bond interpolated her own high D Flat for Grandi at the end – something of a notorious event in which one can hear the acoustical change in the recording if one listens carefully. The other voices heard here but not noted in Somm’s documentation are those of Vera Terry, mezzo, and Ernest Frank, bass.

I greatly enjoyed Beecham’s way with Reznicek – vibrant, with military brass, fluent clarinets very forward in the balance, and some deliciously creamy violins. The BBC Symphony in excellent form. There are three unissued performances here; the Manon Lescaut Intermezzo and the two Wagner items. The Puccini is certainly passionate but vitiated somewhat by poor execution, something of which attends the Act 3 Introduction to Tannhauser, though I admired it nevertheless. Beecham could be a Wagnerian of tremendous power and the excerpt from Das Rheingold is a gem, one of the highpoints of this CD. Parry Jones is insinuating and characterful as Loge and Paul Schöffler is in absolutely regal voice, making this a commanding souvenir of Beecham’s Rheingold and one not to be missed, especially by those yet to be convinced by Schöffler. Of the other items the Mozart is attractive without being a stellar performance but the Tchaikovsky is splendid.

Transfers are excellent; my booklet has unfortunately suffered a printing mishap and two pages are blank. Much to interest then in these immediate post-War recordings.

Jonathan Woolf

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