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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Sir Thomas Beecham conducts Second Symphonies by Brahms and Beethoven
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Symphony no.2
Recorded in 1956, Edinburgh, UK
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770 – 1827)

Symphony no.2
Recorded in 1956, London, UK
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham
BBC LEGENDS BBCL 4099-2 [70:26]


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Now that interest is dying out in buying new recordings (how many versions of the Beethoven or indeed any symphony cycle can the general public want or need?), attention has turned sharply to what is usually titled ‘Classic’ recordings. These almost always include an artist – be it soloist or conductor – now dead, and the marketing pitch is somewhere along the lines of:

‘legendary…his artistry lives on through modern technology…

There are two questions I feel obliged to ask of these recordings. Firstly, has it worked? The real problem with re-mastering is that – with some notable exceptions – it either has the effect of making any recording sound acoustically dead, as though it were recorded in a broom cupboard, or it just has no effect on sound whatsoever, it sounds just as scratched and uneven in quality, it just takes up less storage space.

The other question that must stand is ‘Why has this been done?’ Is making these recordings available of benefit to the public, or is it a quick and cheap way to make a bit of money?

For all the respect that I have for the artists of the early twentieth century, I am not going to buy a CD of Klemperer, just because it is Klemperer just as I would not buy a CD of Rattle now, just because it is Rattle. Putting a famous name on the front cover isn’t enough to make a good CD, yet many of these ‘Classic’ recordings rely on just that. The actual music played is treated as irrelevant, when in fact it is the key to a good ‘Classic’ recording.

Here, Beecham is getting the treatment. He’s a good choice – people not only know the name but usually a couple of anecdotes about the conductor to go with it. However, the BBC have arguably approached this with some intelligence, having pulled out two works both popular and well-associated with Beecham: Beethoven’s and Brahms’ second symphonies. Out of all the Beethoven symphonies, it was the second and seventh that he conducted most frequently, whilst his love of Brahms’ second is well recorded.

There is no real question as to whether it is any good – it is Beecham after all – so a fantastic rendition of both works is practically guaranteed – and delivered. The Brahms and Beethoven are indeed outstanding. More importantly perhaps for the consumer, the remastering is of high standard, although there is some (forgivable) deadening of tone and this CD is to my mind one of the exceptions to the rule of ‘Classic’ releases.

Christa Norton


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