Aureole etc.




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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Sir Thomas Beecham conducts Berlioz and Franck
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)

Te Deum Op. 22 (1849)
César FRANCK (1822-1890)

Le Chasseur maudit – Symphonic Poem (1882)
Alexander Young (tenor)
London Philharmonic Choir/Dulwich College Boys Choir
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham
Recorded: London, December 1953 and April 1954 (Te Deum) and March 1951 (Le Chasseur maudit)
SONY CLASSICAL SMK87964 [60.34]


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Berlioz suggested a choir of eight hundred for his Te Deum – a work he characterised, albeit with a degree of understatement – as "colossal, Babylonian". He subsequently agreed to a reduction to one hundred and fifty thus probably cutting out most of the 600 choirboys he’d originally envisaged. For this 1953-54 recording Beecham and his forces made further necessary reductions – but we can nevertheless still hear the vaunting forces of the London Philharmonic Choir and Dulwich College Boys Choir in the acoustic of Hornsey Parish Church. Denis Vaughan, a bassist in the Royal Philharmonic at the time, plays the organ on this recording and Alexander Young is the splendid tenor. It should be noted that Beecham omitted the Praeludium and the final March for the Presentation of the Colours; otherwise everything is grandly conceived, gloriously and even heroically in place. Vaughan reminisces in Graham Melville-Mason’s witty and knowledgeable notes that Beecham walked down the aisle during the recording to listen to a playback whilst sporting a wreath on his head. It’s the kind of work – and the kind of performance – to encourage such Caesarean attitudes.

The Dulwich choir is pitched straight in; they maintain discipline and shape and sing with characterful tone. Beecham whips up the passionate conviction, the dramatic diminuendi, the fissure and passion as we near the outburst of Te aeternum Patrem. Vaughan tried to cultivate the characteristic French organ sound in Hornsey – he used four stops in the Tibi omnes, a mixture and three reeds – and he succeeds to a large degree. The climaxes here are judged splendidly but what most lingers in the mind is the orchestral conclusion to the movement where the string gravity, its weight calibrated to just limits, carries depth of concentration to the outermost limits. Dignare, Domine sees much antiphonal writing for choir and organ; the singing here is beautifully refined and raptly intense. To hear the Tu, Christe burst into measured life is also to appreciate the excellent balance between the constituent parts of the performance – no easy matter when, as here, Berlioz writes for full choir (boys choir and both divisions of the full choir), organ and orchestra. The climax is truly resplendent in Beecham’s hands and never grandiloquent or forced but rather a natural accumulation of musical direction. Young’s ever-attractive voice, plangent and expressive is heard in the Te ergo quæsumus and he is matched by the choir’s delicacy behind him. The immutable tread of the concluding Judex crederis brings with it an intense uncoiling, the ostinati driving ever onwards, towards the truly blazing climax of brass, percussion and organ.

Coupled with the Berlioz is Franck’s Le Chasseur maudit, a bit of a penny dreadful that receives an idiosyncratic (read; Beechamesque) performance from the bold Bart. This is a case of a work fashioned to the interpreter’s scenic will. Dynamics are frequently inverted as Beecham seeks to contour the work to his eviscerating liking. It’s marvellously done – panache, drive, virtuosity, wit - but purists will be weeping into their hair shirts.

There was something in the air in these islands in the four short years between 1879 and 1882. Forth came Beecham, Stokowski, Russian-born Coates and Harty; someone needs seriously to consider a systematic reissue programme for Harty, Cala is doing Stokowski proud and Sony keeps on with its elegant and impressive Beecham traversal. Long may it continue.

Jonathan Woolf

 

 



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